Smartphone choice for doctors and medical students is iPhone, not Android

Last month on match day, fourth year medical students from around the country — myself included — found out where we’ll be doing our residencies.

I was extremely excited to find out I matched at my home institution, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, to do my Emergency Medicine residency, a program rich in EM culture and innovation.

Almost immediately after “The Match”, iMedicalApps received emails from fourth year medical students questioning what type of mobile device they should purchase for residency — almost all asking between an iPhone or Android.

We even found out some residency directors were already making suggestions for the incoming residents, choosing the iPhone. Below is an excerpt from one such e-mail:

If you are considering a change in mobile companies, please look carefully at an iphone. There are many apps that we will be using in the near future and it would be a significant benefit to have one.

After much debate between the editors at iMedicalApps, we have came to the conclusion that the choice of smartphone for not only a resident, but for physicians and others in healthcare has now become abundantly clear — the iPhone.

Here’s why.

Preface:

Prior to Verizon carrying the iPhone 4, we could not state this as emphatically. After all, if you don’t have 3G service in your area and can’t make phone calls — the primary purpose of a phone, then you were better off with an Android phone. With Verizon now carrying the iPhone, Android’s leverage in regards to superior coverage has largely become a moot point.

The argument for the iPhone as the tool of choice for those in healthcare can be explained with the following 3 points:

*Superior App Store
*Integration with iOS devices, namely the iPad
*Lack of fragmentation.

Superior App Store

If you take a look at our top 20 free iPhone medical apps list versus or top 15 free Android medical apps list — it’s pretty obvious which App Store has a more vibrant medical app community.

Finding even 15 free quality Android medical apps was an arduous undertaking — and we had to delay making the list multiple times due to a lack of quality apps. Not so for the iOS store, and since the publication of our list, there are many other free medical apps that have entered into Apple’s App Store.

The superior quality paradigm can be extended to the Paid category of both stores as well. Namely, we’ll use Epocrates as an example. It took Epocrates well over two years to create an Android app for their premium subscriptions — yet they were on the iOS platform virtually at launch.  Unfortunately, Epocrates isn’t an outlier in this regard — this pattern repeats itself, as subsequent examples will show.

In the multiple interviews we have conducted with app developers, they continue to look at Android as a “secondary” App Store. The Android Marketplace is viewed by developers as less of an opportunity to make monetary gains.  The data supports this statement, and Google openly admits this. Android might have more handsets than Apple’s iPhone, yet developers make more money on the iOS platform than Android. Financial gains none withstanding, medical app developers have cited issues with Android’s security and distribution model as problematic as well.

Only recently have medical app developers told us they are starting to see signs of life on the Android platform, after months of slow uptake.

What does this translate to? Medical app developers will almost always produce an app on the iOS platform first, before going to Android.  In our experience at iMedicalApps, we have yet to see a popular medical app being produced on the Android platform first.  In subsequent examples, we’ll show how many medical app developers decide to not even bother with the Android platform.

Medscape, arguably the most popular medical app to date, was on the iOS platform a little more than a year after the iPhone’s launch. It took them over two years to be on the Android platform – only recently porting their popular app to the Android platform. Even then, if you look at the comments section of our review of Medscape, you’ll see many comments by Android users having issues with the Medscape app — arguably due to fragmentation, a topic we will broach at the end of this article.

What are Android users missing out on? A plethora of quality medical apps. For example, one of our favorite medical apps, Radiology 2.0, a case based radiology learning app, made by a Yale radiologist and a medical student, is available for the iPhone and iPad, but not for Android. Our favorite drug drug reference app — Micromedex, shares the same story.

Even the New England Journal of Medicine — one of the standard peer review journals in medicine — has produced multiple apps for the iOS platform, yet nothing for Android.

What’s especially saddening about the above three medial apps? They’re all free. These aren’t the only three examples, if you look at our top 20 iPhone medical apps list, you’ll see many more examples of this.

Integration with the iPad and future iOS devices:

Physicians and health care professionals love the iPad. Survey after survey is showing this fact.  Not only does my profession love the iPad as a personal tool, but one for productivity and education. The University of Chicago’s residency program is using the iPad, numerous hospitals are piloting hundreds of iPads, multiple medical schools are using the iPad for mobile medical curriculums. We’ve documented all of these cases in detail on iMedicalApps.

The iPad clearly has a head start and Android tablets are lagging far behind. We haven’t been able to find one case of significant Android tablet use by physicians. On top of this, the iPad’s medical section is booming, many of our top 20 free iPhone medical apps have been converted to iPad format — making the choice of tablet purchase for medical professionals obvious — the iPad.

Many of the paid medical apps on the iPad work on the iPhone as well, preventing users from having to buy applications twice, and allowing users to use their app on multiple devices.

Fragmentation:

As stated earlier, we have gotten reader comments on our Android reviews stating issues with certain medical apps. One example is the Medscape app, where the comments field is littered with users having installation issues — but this trend is echoed in other reviews as well.

We have even gotten direct emails about Android issues, with medical professionals asking us to troubleshoot for them. Many of these issues can be related to the now infamous issue of fragmentation with the Android OS.  Unlike Apple, which makes sure apps work along a continuum of operating system iterations — Android does not.  There are multiple versions of the Android operating system in the ecosystem, and not all apps will work seamlessly with all the versions.

“4G” isn’t a deal breaker for medical use:

On a personal note — I am fascinated by the “4G” argument.  When it comes to download speeds, there are two key capabilities that would require sizable bandwidth for medical professionals. Accessing medical records off site, and pulling radiology images. The 3G speed of 500K to 2MPS that are capable on the Verizon and AT&T iPhones are definitely sufficient for this type of data.

Conclusion:

My fellow editors at iMedicalApps and I had high hopes for the Android platform and its medical app ecosystem — and still do. But it would be foolish for us to ignore how much more superior the iPhone is for medical professionals than the Android platform.

This doesn’t mean we’re giving up on Android, and we’ll continue reviewing android medical apps. But in this moment in time — the choice for medical professionals is very clear — if you want the best medical apps, ability to seamlessly sync your medical apps with future iOS devices, such as the iPad — and a better experience — get the iPhone.

Author:

Iltifat Husain, MD

Founder, Editor-in-Chief of iMedicalApps.com. Emergency Medicine Faculty and Director of Mobile App curriculum at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

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10 Responses to Smartphone choice for doctors and medical students is iPhone, not Android

  1. drrjv April 25, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    Most prescient article I’ve had the pleasure of reading on iMedicalApps! Very nice analysis of the medical smartphone market.

  2. James Watto April 26, 2011 at 3:58 am #

    It’s Important to be open minded, to not get stuck with a particular brand, so this is not about being branded an appleite, it’s about what is best at the current time, I would like to think that the paid textbooks I have on my iPhone and iPad will have longevity, something I trust more for Apple products and compatibility than i would for android.

    Thanks for getting off of the fence for this one and taking a side.

    And where is blackberry in all this! (had to put a joke in there somewhere)

    • Iltifat Husain April 26, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

      You bring up a great point James — especially if you purchase expensive apps, having that assurance is so key. We’re hoping Android figured out how to deal with this fragmentation issue though, and has a more unified platform. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Thomas Gulvezan May 3, 2011 at 6:47 am #

    Thanks for the perspective. As an entering medical student in August, I have been weighing iOS/android after bad experiences with macs and other mac-related compatibility issues within my prior institution’s IT system. Being objective here, I would like to have the most stable platform and not waste my time *goofing* around with apps when I need to get work done. You’ve made my decision much more informed.

  4. john van der huugen baum March 6, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    iphone is best for apps…what is the release date of ipod touch 5g btw?

  5. Dr. J Moon May 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    This article convinced me to get an iPhone — I was ready to get a droid 3.0, which my dermatologist wife has (actually, a 2.0), but I’ll give the iPhone a shot and maybe convince her too.

    Thanks Dr. Husain!

  6. Ali Jalali December 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    Thank you for Great article. A few months back I would have agreed with you, but since the arrival of Galaxy Note 2 and Jellybean, I’m not sure. Note 2 does multitasking, has a S-pen and a longer battery life. It easily replace my iP4S.
    @arjalali

  7. Naix February 8, 2013 at 4:46 am #

    I still feel using hard copy book is better. It looks more professional when you checking the thick Merck manual. Some patient or doctor will think that you are SMSing when you trying to lookup information from phone.

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