Medical Students are often challenged by large amounts of study material and multiple study texts that are not very portable to hospital wards or away from home. The USMLE Disease Deck($20) by Dr. Conrad Fischer, a self-professed expert in Medical Student standardized test preparation, hopes to consolidate much of that information into a portable flashcard format.  This review will go through the features offered by this USMLE study application, available on the iPhone and the iPod Touch. 

This medical app is comprised of 316 alphabetical and searchable flashcards that can be viewed in full or in “Quiz Mode” with the disease descriptions hidden. After the user views the disease name in “Quiz Mode” and then taps the screen to view the hidden definition, the user must decide whether he or she knows the card material and tap the appropriate button, a check or an X, at the bottom of the screen. These ‘scores’ are saved and can be viewed later. Also, an included audio feature reads out loud the flashcard.

What I liked:

The flashcards are easy to read in portrait or landscape mode and easily searchable via the titles or flashcard text. The flashcard set is adequate with many basic diseases and information. For example: the card for Pharyngitis includes diagnostic criteria, common infectious causes, and common tests and treatment. The information is accurate and simple, but sufficient for simple 1st or 2nd year medical student USMLE studying, especially when carrying books or keeping paper flashcards is not feasible.

The app organizes the cards into study sets by field (i.e.: Cardiology, Surgery, etc) making them easy to review by subject. I liked that cards within each subject can also be shuffled to prevent rote memorization based on the card order. Cards that are marked as ‘missed’ by the user during “quiz mode” are saved and shuffled like every good flashcard program.

What I did not like:

USMLE Disease Deck is an acceptable flashcard program, but for $20 dollars, it leaves several things to be desired. First, while the set is adequate for 1st and 2nd year students, the information contained may be considered too basic for those at a higher level or those looking to prepare for difficult USMLE questions. A few diseases are also conspicuously absent from the set. A discussion of Beta Thalassemia is included, but Alpha Thalassemia is not. Similarly, in the Gynecology section, ovarian torsion and ectopic pregnancy, two high yield conditions for USMLE studying, are missing.

In addition, having the user manually select whether he or she knew the card content during “Quiz Mode” rather than including actual quiz questions to test the user’s knowledge does little to make the digital flashcards more useful than the old fashioned paper variety.

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What can be improved:

One unique feature that is not fully realized is the audible flashcard function. Each card has the card title and the quick reference section text available as audio, but it must be selectively played on each flashcard. An option to hear all of a card’s text (which would increase the app’s size considerably) or play the text from several cards in a row would make the app usable when exercising or in the car.

Additional flashcards of high-yield diseases, as mentioned in the previous section, should be added as well.

Finally, at $20 for a simple flashcard program, the hit on the wallet is substantial and should be at least half of its listed price to be worthwhile.

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Summary:

The cards are easy to read, easily organized, and searchable, but the app is overpriced for the basic content, missing several high yield diseases, and lacks any innovative quiz functions. For $20 and without some needed changes, students would be better served to write their own quick study cards or buy a more complete paper set.

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-We have added our good friend Devin to the iMedical Apps team and we feel privileged to have him on board. After finishing up his 4th year, he will be going into an Internal Medicine residency next year. He was also a former actor before his medical school days, making appearances in such hit shows as Dawson’s Creek(sorry Devin, had to say it!). He’s on a more relaxed rotation this this month so will be writing a good number of reviews.