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

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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.

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Discussion ( 27 comments ) Post a Comment
  • 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

    • 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.

  • 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

      • 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

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

  • 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

    • 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.


        • 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?)

      • 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.

      • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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

      • 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?

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

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

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