In the personal library of many physicians, there is at least one hard bound collection of beautifully hand drawn color illustrations by Frank Netter MD (1906-1991). These drawings were the work of an immensely gifted graphic artist who, by stripping away every unimportant detail, made human anatomy even more vivid and more beautiful. Frank Netter was also a physician with deep appreciation for the varieties and causes of human diseases. Sometimes, the first image that comes to mind when thinking of a disease is the drawing in a Netter book.

Now, many of those drawings have been assembled and annotated for a series of four medical iPhone applications by Modality. As an orthopedic surgeon, I immediately purchased the musculoskeletal edition($29.99). The other applications offered by Modality are geared toward general anatomy, head & neck anatomy, and neuroanatomy.  This review will discuss how this medical application can be useful for not only clinicians, but medical students.

The developers of this application were not only motivated by the beauty of his drawings, but also by the opportunity to make them an interactive teaching tool. Thus, each important structure in the drawings (or “card”) is marked with a small pin which, when tapped, displays the name of the structure. You also have the option to play a Jeopardy style quiz where the name of a structure is given and you have to correctly tap the pin identifying the structure. Individual cards can also be bookmarked for direct navigation from the home page.

The developers also took the opportunity to add a few more radiographic and MRI correlates of anatomical drawings, a useful addition for the clinician. These are nicely integrated into the application, being presented as viewing options when a bony structure is selected on any page. One somewhat awkward option is to “Search Google” for additional information on an anatomical object, which quits the application and opens Safari to do a general Google search on the name of the object.

What I liked about this app:
  • Frank Netter’s beautiful drawings
  • ability to search easily for a structure
  • radiographic and MRI correlates of anatomy
  • quiz mode useful for exam review
  • opportunity to use professional anatomy drawings to explain a problem or a procedure to a patient


What I did not like about this app:
  • many drawings were obscured by the large number of annotation pins, the developers could have used more creativity in designing a selection interface
  • performing a general Google search to obtain more information does not seem appropriate
What I’d like to see in future updates:
  • tapping on a structure shows the name, which is the minimum function, but the authors lost an opportunity to include musculoskeletal anatomy basics such as origin, insertion, blood supply and innervation
  • if the authors felt there was good anatomy information on the web (e.g. Wikipedia), this information should be displayed within the application as a Web View, not by forcing launch of the separate Safari application
  • double tapping on a structure should zoom to it (instead of requiring a pinch gesture)
  • a few drawings can be supplemented with images of common orthopedic procedures (e.g. arthroscopy, knee or hip replacement) to make this a truly indispensable tool for clinicians.

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Frank Netter is considered by many to be the best medical artist of modern times. The Musculo iPhone app is an economical and convenient way to own a set of his drawings. Many users of the application will also no doubt take advantage of the quiz mode to review anatomy. Having been given access to these classic drawings, the publishers of this application could have also taken the opportunity to produce a richer and more detailed anatomy guide, such as by including muscle origins, insertions and innervation. As it is, the application is a very useful addition to the “library” of any physician with a focus on the musculoskeletal system.

Addendum by the iMedical Apps Team:

For medical students this app provides some unique ways to study your anatomy, as mentioned in Dr. Wodajo’s review. Quiz mode and correlation to radiographic and MRI images is very helpful. However, be aware of key limitations mentioned as well, such as lack of origin, insertion, blood supply, and innervation within muscle selections. This app does not have as much information as the Netter flashcards, so should not be viewed as a complete replacement, it does make studying anatomy more fun though. If you think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages take the $29.99 plunge.