Looking for mobile-friendly, authoritative texts and databases? There’s a librarian for that – A review of useful academic apps

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By: Susan M. Foster-Harper, MLS, AHIP

I like being in an information nexus.  One way of visualizing a medical librarian’s role is to imagine yourself as a traffic control policeman coordinating traffic from many directions:   on the positive side, you can see oncoming traffic from many directions simultaneously, and it feels pretty nice to facilitate the driver’s access to his/her destination.   On the negative side, drivers are annoyed with any delay as they are convinced they cannot reach their destination fast enough.

As a medical librarian, I like seeing what’s coming at me.  On one side, books and biomedical literature are quickly transitioning to an electronic format.  Vendors and publishers are presenting new products to improve access.

On the other, iTunes and mobile devices are rapidly becoming ubiquitous.  Many of the apps in the Medical category of the Apps Store have proven extremely useful to medical students and healthcare professionals in a clinical environment, i.e., Epocrates, Medscape, Lexi-Comp, iTranslate among others.   To students and residents, the speed and immediacy of the information can be exhilarating by the end of a busy day.

The academic medical institution, however, has another side.  The in-depth and authoritative resources found in the library (or via the library’s website) are just as vital to medical and allied health educational programs as they have been for decades.  However, lately traffic in this lane has begun to speed up.  Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine is available for the iPhone.  The Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics and the Harriet Lane Handbook have been sighted on the iPad.  As they’re generally not seen in a commercial marketplace,  the availability of these texts (or a subset of their content) for mobile devices is sometimes a challenge to publicize.  Some of these e-book collections, though, are becoming familiar in a majority of medical libraries.

Stat!Ref has been a valuable provider of medical e-book collections for the desktop for several years.  Now, content is presented in a mobile-friendly format and is searchable by topic.  In most cases, this is adequate for a mobile device.  The full site via the institution’s library would be optimally viewed on the desktop and/or iPad.   It’s not possible at this time to create a bookmark on the home screen which would go directly to a specific Stat!Ref title, but it can be located by doing a search on keywords in the title.

MD Consult has introduced a mobile-friendly site as well which contains a subset of the full desktop version. It is organized by topic and is searchable. It is possible to create a bookmark on the home screen by locating a result from the desired text, go to the table of contents of the title, and then save that bookmark to the home screen. The user must first create a personal account/login on the desktop version and be logged out of that before logging in to the mobile version. Another product called Procedures Consult is available as a separate subscription and has gotten high marks for its potential in medical procedures education.

There are a number of ways to search PubMed, either via its handheld site:  http://pubmedhh.nlm.nih.gov/nlm/ or by third-party developers via the Apps Store.  Among the most popular are PubMed on Tap ($2.99) for iPhone, or PubMed Mobile for Android.  For ease of access, I tend to prefer those that enable the user to designate his/her specific institution and/or proxy url.  For sheer beauty of the interface and the ability to focus on evidence-based medicine, I like Unbound Medicine’s Unbound Medline.  The website is designed for mobile devices and is free.  Although not specifically designed for use in specific institutions, I find that this interface has produced full-text results on campus by I.P. authentication in certain cases.


Other valuable library resources (or subsets of them) which are available in a mobile-friendly format include AccessMedicine, AccessEmergency Medicine, PsychiatryOnline, UpToDate, EbscoHost databases Medline and Dynamed (among others), mobileMicromedex, and Cochrane Reviews from Skyscape.

Turning in another direction, I like what I see coming: medical school faculty and bioinformatics departments joining forces to create curriculum-specific mobile apps to complement course materials, or perhaps medical school faculty recommending certain commercial apps which, by then, will become peer-reviewed and critically evaluated.

I hope hundreds more apps will continue to be developed. Looking for a 3D Brain? There’s an app for that.

Looking for a BMI Calculator? There’s an app for that.

Looking for mobile-friendly, authoritative texts and databases? There’s a librarian for that.

Susan M. Foster-Harper is an academic medical librarian and a new contributor to iMedicalApps

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