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Should medical professionals get an iPhone, Blackberry, or Android phone? It’s complicated.

Lately, I’ve often been asked the question, “What type of smartphone should I get?” by my medical peers.  I’ve been asked this by physicians, residents, medical students, and others. Many of my friends are entering residency and plan on upgrading to a smart phone, while others already entrenched in residency have phone contracts finishing up.

The answer to this question is not easy. Rather, as Facebook nomenclature would demand, “it’s complicated”. From the title you can see I’ve excluded the Palm platform and Windows mobile phones. Palm is currently restructuring since being bought by HP, and Microsoft is in the process of rebooting their mobile division – so both currently do not possess vibrant ecosystems for app development – and won’t be included in this discussion.

How you use your mobile phone is key in choosing the right smart phone, and obviously, not all medical professionals use their phone in the same way. I’ll break down a few different scenarios, and hopefully this analysis will help you make a more informed decision about the right mobile platform for you.

Do you need a smart phone?

First off, you have to decide if you will actually use a smart phone. If you need to check your e-mail at multiple times throughout the day, or feel a mobile reference tool in the palm of your hand is something that would improve your workflow, then you should seriously consider getting a smart phone. However, if you find smart phones cumbersome, too complicated, and don’t ever feel the need to use mobile reference devices such as PDAs, then you probably don’t need a smart phone.

If all you plan on doing with your phone is making calls, then getting a smart phone will only complicate your work flow. To make a phone call on an iPhone can take up to 3 or more gestures – a waste of time for those who don’t plan on using all the other features the iPhone affords.

What is your contract situation?

When it comes to my medical peers, this can often times be the sticking point when making a decision about the right smart phone. Currently, the iPhone OS platform is only available for AT&T, so if you’re on a Verizon family plan or can’t switch carriers, the best option for you is an Android phone or a Blackberry.

You should also be cognizant of the increasing chatter about Verizon getting its hands on the iPhone. Engadget, and several other tech sites have been reporting this could possibly be announced when Steve Jobs announces the iPhone 4G in the coming weeks – but these rumors are not a new thing – and most likely are wishful thinking.

Do you use your phone in a rural settings – and how important is a dedicated internet connection?

It’s no secret Verizon has been bashing AT&T for the quality of it’s wireless service. AT&T has 3G service in cities, but the service can literally come to a standstill at peak hours. I’ve experienced this in New York City, Washington D.C., San Francisco, New Orleans, and Las Vegas. In mid-sized cities, I’ve actually had a pretty good experience with AT&T’s 3G connection.

In those big cities I mentioned, my peers who have Verizon service almost all had a good 3G experience, unlike my own. Recently, I undertook a long road trip, and realized the 3G coverage maps of AT&T’s service that Verizon so aptly pokes fun at in commercials are true. As soon as you leave a city, AT&T’s 3G service drops off and you get the dreaded “EDGE” connection – a significantly slower internet experience. My peers with Verizon phones usually did not suffer the same fate.

This is important if your healthcare work requires you to visit remote clinics and a dedicated Wi-Fi connection is not available. You don’t want to be stuck in a remote clinic with shoddy service. Granted, most mobile medical reference apps are native to your phone and don’t require an internet connection – but if you don’t have good service, looking up key information via the web is going to be a exercise in patience.

Also, many electronic health records can be accessed via the web, and if you health care network has mobile access to these records, having a mobile phone with a strong internet access is essential.

So if you need a phone with a strong internet connection in rural settings, stick to your Verizon service, and consider an Android or Blackberry phone.  Android phones have a superior browser in relation to the Blackberry, so if you need to use the browser to access patient data via portals, go with an Android phone.


Iltifat Husain, MD

Founder, Editor-in-Chief of Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Director of Mobile App curriculum at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He is also the founder of iPrescribeApps, a platform for prescribing apps to patients. Dr. Husain has given lectures on digital medicine globally. He went to North Carolina State University for undergrad and went to medical school at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

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28 Responses to Should medical professionals get an iPhone, Blackberry, or Android phone? It’s complicated.

  1. Dastan T. Abdulla June 1, 2010 at 12:52 am #

    Thank you very much I found it really helpful

    I have a question if you don’t mind :what do you recommend, buying an Android phone or an iPhone for someone who already got an iPad ?

    and thanks again

    • Iltifat Husain June 1, 2010 at 9:12 am #


      If you already have an iPad, getting a iPhone is by no means a must. If you’re big into medical apps, then it might be a good idea to get an iPhone though, because most iPhone apps are being ported over to the iPad. This means that for a lot of apps you buy, they are available for the iPhone as well as the iPad, with one purchase. This might make getting an iPhone appealing. Plus, it uses basically the same operating system so learning how to use the iPhone would be a snap.

    • drrjv June 1, 2010 at 5:12 pm #

      1. Pretty much all of the iPhone apps work on the iPad, so you can have many of the same Apps on both devices (without paying twice).

      2. If you like (and know) the iPad interface, it will be very easy to use an iPhone. The Android user interface is not nearly as slick.

      PS: New version of the iPhone expected to be announced next week.

  2. Jeff Brandt June 1, 2010 at 7:07 am #

    Fragmentation, You are correct that there are some issues with fragmentation but if the developer of the app does there work correctly this should not happen. iPhone is about to experience the same problem with their 4.0 OS release, that is older version of apps may not work. The same thing happens with all computers, Apple or MS. Manufactures must deprecate system if they are to move forward.

    As for the difference in iPhone and others such as Android and Blackberry. It depends on the person and their needs. The one button iPhone solution is great for some an hated by others. Android currently is a more powerful tool but it is not quite as simple to use. The driver of a VW may not enjoy a Porsche GT3

    Jeff Brandt

    • Iltifat Husain June 1, 2010 at 9:28 am #


      I don’t think there are “some issues” with fragmentation, I think there are a lot. It’s one of the reasons we are still lacking a lot of quality medical applications in the Android marketplace. Android has been out for years now, yet look at the paltry of quality medical applications available. As I mentioned above, even Epocrates doesn’t have premium versions of their application on the platform!

      Personally, I’m a huge fan of Android. But I’m frustrated when every time we post an Android review of a medical app I have e-mails from people saying they cannot access the app and I have to explain to them the phone they bought 6 months ago does not have the updated Android operating system so they can’t use certain medical applications.

      At the end of the day, whats the point in having a powerful platform when you can’t even fully enjoy it? Also, you’re right, it really does depend on a persons needs which platform they would prefer, as I broke down in detail above. Its up to the end user. Each platform has its advantages and disadvantages.

      As for me, I’m hoping Google figures out their fragmentation issues, because right now the medical apps in the Android marketplace as a group have nothing on the medical apps available to iPhone OS users – and that lack of competition is not good for the end users.

      • Jeff Brandt June 1, 2010 at 9:49 am #

        Welcome to benefits and problems of OpenSource. Unfortunately, this will happen as it does even in the iPhone/iPod world. Almost all of our problem with our app motionPHR on the Apple idevices are on the iPod/iPad. Apple say the OS is the same, but as a Software Engineer I can tell you if you change any software to run on different hardware, IT IS NOT THE SAME. LOL Blackberry is the worst, each platform is different and has to be handled differently.

        mHealth is a fairly new field with many developing health apps that have no experience in Software Engineering or Medical Informatics. The cost structure of free is actually contributing to the poor quality. But this too will change. The model will change or the initiative will die. I’m hoping for a change because the future should be in mobile.

        Jeff Brandt

        • Iltifat Husain June 1, 2010 at 10:36 am #

          Open source and fragmentation issues aside. The end result in the current paradigm is that Apple posses a vastly superior array of medical applications to both Android and Blackberry.

          I can only speak for medical professionals when I say this – I don’t know if Android and Blackberry are on par with other categories of apps. But when it comes to medical professionals finding quality medical apps on their Android or Blackberry, good luck. Yes, there are a good number, but when compared to the Apple App Store, the difference is almost laughable.

          My peers have a constant struggle with this, and its one of the reasons they make the switch to an iPod Touch or iPhone.

          You’re right, the future is definitely mobile, and right now, in the mobile medical field of medical apps, Android and Blackberry have a lot of catching up to do.

    • drrjv June 1, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

      There are NO problems with Apps working with the new iPhone software (version 4.0). Fragmentation is a non-issue.

  3. Wayne L June 1, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    This is a fantastic post and an invaluable resource. As a new medical school graduate and a longtime Palm PDA user, I am looking to upgrade to a smartphone and have been weighing the Android vs. iPhone question for the last few months. The above post has affirmed my own analysis of the topic. While I think Android is a fantastic platform overall and in fact bests iPhone in many areas, iPhone is currently still the reigning king in regards to medical apps, and therefore has the most utility for those looking for native medical app resources on their device. Thank you for your insightful analysis. I am looking forward to seeing what Apple will be announcing next week in addition to what we already know about the next-gen iPhone.

    Wayne L

    • Jeff Brandt June 1, 2010 at 11:54 am #

      Wayne, If you are attending OHSU medical grad school as I am, beware of one thing. There online system to do almost everything has a big warning “if you are thinking about an iPad for school it is not compatible with our SAKAI system” This is my problem with Apple, you have to give me the tools I need. I hate Flash but I need it. FYI, I am typing on my Macbook pro, the best tool for the job.


      • Iltifat Husain June 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

        Jeff, I agree with the flash assessment. The option really should be left to the end user if they want to use it or not. True, Flash will slow down your phone, drain your battery life, crash applications that you’re running, but at the end of the day, the decision to have those events happen should be decided by the end user.

        But the business side of me completely understands why Apple would want to keep a closed system so their users would not suffer the above issues. Even in Androids latest iteration and announcement, while Flash support is present, tech sites such as Engadget who got a sneak peak at flash on the OS reported subpar experiences.

        • drrjv June 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm #

          I think Steve Job’s explanation of why iPhone/iPad is not supporting Flash is logical and clear and should be read before believing all the FUD being spread around by various blog ‘pundits’.

          Apple has good reason not to support Flash (and personally, I don’t miss the Flash ads and various slow downs.

          In my experience, Apple is usually ahead of the curve on various standards (remember the floppy?)

        • Iltifat Husain June 18, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

          Yea, at the end of the day, it’s about controlling the user experience. Apple has a right to control the user experience how they see fit on their device, but those who don’t agree with Apple’s idea of a “user experience” have legitimate arguments. But their idea of a “user experience” has obviously been successful….

      • drrjv June 1, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

        SAKAI is based on JAVA not FLASH and probably will not work on the iPhone because JAVA typically requires that a JAVA applet be downloaded.

        Webkit, the basis for the iPad/iPhone Safari browser, along with the browser on Android, PalmPre, Google Chrome, Nokia S60, Symbian, etc. Expect most if not all major websites to eventually support Webkit.

        • Iltifat Husain June 18, 2010 at 2:51 pm #

          Yep, and the new blackberry OS will finally be supporting Webkit…

    • Iltifat Husain June 1, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words Wayne! The goal was to offer an insiders guide to medical professionals who are choosing between smart phones and I’m glad you found it useful.

      I’m also looking forward to see what the upcoming Apple announcement will reveal. All the tech aside, my biggest hope is they open up the platform to Verizon – but that is probably just a pipe dream.

      • drrjv June 1, 2010 at 5:32 pm #

        Isn’t it really Verizon’s decision as to whether to let the iPhone on their network?

        Verizon uses CDMA, an end-of-the-road standard that will soon be replaced with LTE (which is closer to ATT’s GSM network). The iPhone will not work on Verizon’s network.

        Reportedly, Apple went to Verizon before going to ATT when the iPhone came out. Verizon wouldn’t deal so Apple went with ATT.

        • Iltifat Husain June 18, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

          Yea, I heard about Verizon being approach by Apple initially. I would think the CDMA hurdle wouldn’t be the linchpin though – the Droid works great on Verizon, etc. Verizon has more subscribers than Apple, and for them to not partner up in the future to make more money seems almost “anti-capitalistic” to me.

          I think who’s responsible for the lack of a partnership is still left up to debate…

  4. Becky June 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    This is such a great post. I have been debating on which smart phone to get now that I am done with medical school, and this post could not have said it any better. I completely agree with Wayne. Thanks so much!

    • Iltifat Husain June 18, 2010 at 2:48 pm #

      Your welcome Becky – glad we could be of help

  5. Egross June 16, 2010 at 4:19 am #

    I’m not sure if most physicians who read your comments are in my category or not. I am over 20 years out of med school, began w/ the Sharp Wizard in the 80’s and progressed thru all the Palm products and want to stay w/ Palm. I don’t need all the bells and whistles (apps). I need a reliable smart phone w/ easy net access, e-mail, etc. that allows me a great network here in NJ which AT&T doesn’t. That rules out the iPhone. The great new Android seems to freeze a lot on the people I’ve spoken to and seems to have a lot of kinks they need to work out. The Blackberry has a lot of what I want but so does the Palm Pre Plus. I played w/ them all in both a store and whenever I see someone w/ them. I like the feel of the Palm. I have 20 years of stored info that I would like to seemlessly transfer to a new Palm. I recently played w/ the Android Incredible, i phone and the Palm Pre Plus and just love the feel and look of the Palm.
    So now to my question. What do you think of the Palm Pre Plus. Wouldn’t you expect HP to take this good product and build upon it? I don’t need a lot of apps and doesn’t the web connectivity make a lot of the apps I use immediately available anyway?
    Thanks, EGross

    • Iltifat Husain June 16, 2010 at 6:15 am #

      I think the palm pre plus is a great device. You really have to strike that
      balance between reception, and ability to use native applications on your
      device. The only thing with Palm is, since they have been bought out by HP,
      how their app store is going to fair is still questionable – but i’m 90%
      sure they will come out on the better side because of the acquisition.

      At the end of the day, I’d also tell you to consider the iPhone 4, the
      newest iPhone. They are using a new antenna technology, that is supposed to
      increase reception in this phone – but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The nice
      thing with ATT is they will at least let you return the device if you don’t
      like it within the first week or so (You’ll have to check up on the exact
      return policy).

      The iPhone has by far the most vibrant app community – and many of the new
      technologies for medical professionals first start with the iPhone because
      developers want to reach the largest crowd first. But at the same time, if
      you’re not going to use apps that much, than the Palm platform is great.
      The hardware on their phone is secondary to the new Android and iPhone
      devices though, but if you’re not a power user, it shouldn’t be a concern.

      • Egross June 16, 2010 at 6:39 am #

        Thanks. One question I still have is what are the main sites accessible thru the net that the Palm Pre Plus would then be as good as any? Google maps is essentially navigation plus Fandango and many others for non-medical uses are great. Epocrates works w/ Palm well uploaded but what about some net sites that function as medical apps?

        • Iltifat Husain June 16, 2010 at 6:42 am #

          Webapps will work just fine with the Palm OS web browser. We have an
          article below that discusses this some more.


  6. Egross June 16, 2010 at 8:41 am #

    Thanks, great article. Do you have a list of good medical web apps?

    • Iltifat Husain June 18, 2010 at 2:48 pm #

      Egross, we don’t have a list yet of good medical web apps, but thats something we are definitely planning on working on in the future. Also, since you are planning on getting a Palm check out the website – its a great resource for those with a palm phone – and its done by a doc

  7. Sudha June 9, 2012 at 5:29 am #

    Is a Samsung galaxy note useful and convenient for a medical student?

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