A recently released study by Carter et al. assessed the extent of mobile medical application usability in vascular practice.
The authors noted that while mobile applications have been incorporated into several surgical specialties (e.g. urology, neurosurgery, plastic surgery), there was little data with vascular modalities in mind.
The authors conducted their search through the currently available smartphone platforms (i.e. iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Nokia, Windows, and Samsung). Search terms were then utilized that were specific to vascular surgery (e.g. varicose veins, amputation, ulcers, lymphatic disorders).
Data was recorded that documented average consumer rating, number of ratings, category of app, cost of app, documentation of medical professional involvement, and if there were any links for association website.
In total, 49 vascular apps were identified by the investigators. Interestingly, the Android platform had the most apps (35, 71%). Only the iPhone had any other apps (14, 29%), with all other platforms showing no results. The authors decided to break the apps into the categories the affiliated stores had them in (e.g. medical, educational, health and fitness). The most common category was medical (24, 49%). In addition, the authors broke down the apps identified based upon their target population. This included healthcare workers, students, patients, and healthcare professionals.
Overall, there seemed to be more apps aimed at educational content and examination preparation than to actual clinical practice. The authors did not document the names of the apps identified, but only 4 of the apps identified had actual clinical meaningful use (e.g. ulcer analyzers, ulcer classification, medical calculator).
Lastly, one interesting facet noted by the authors was that very few of the apps had references to medical professionals or affiliated organizations.
The authors noted that the study demonstrated a short supply of medical apps designated for vascular surgical utilization. In addition, very few apps cited their information or detailed where the clinical information was coming from. As such, they recommended that the apps need peer-review and should require some form of professional involvement in their creation. These points are very well made and this study helps to highlight this prevailing issue. However, several critiques of this study can be made that future investigators should take heed.
- Data that is supplied through summary information through the store may not be enough for analysis, which is what the authors of this study utilized. As such, the authors could not verify truly if the apps reviewed had clinical information that was cited within. This limitation is key. For future investigators, it is worth reviewing the app in detail to determine to what level the app incorporates clinical information and from what source. This source is often not detailed in the summarized app info on the store.
- Disease-relevant search criteria may be very limiting as the app stores may not be designed for such specific terminology. Rather a systemic, in-depth review of apps or through wider terms may be beneficial.
- Consumer ratings may not be beneficial for rating an app and are subjective. (My favorite example pertains to apps that are ‘free,’ but require a premium subscription and then get dinged for this by reviewers. Such a rating is not reflective of the app information, but rather just the idea of the pricing).
Carter T, O’neill S, Johns N, Brady RR. Contemporary Vascular Smartphone Medical Applications. Ann Vasc Surg. 2013. In Press.