The Merck manual is a venerable encyclopedia of medicine that, over the last century, has passed through eighteen editions and attained the generous girth of over 3000 pages. It has such a breadth of scope that, if similar a book were proposed to a publisher today, it would be quickly dismissed as unrealistically ambitious and lacking a clear audience.

However, by encompassing so many clinical and related topics and by virtue of its consistent, tightly honed writing style, it has paradoxically become useful to a large range of readers, including doctors, lawyers and, more recently with its home edition, to lay readers.

Seeking to expand the audience even further, the publishers have now produced an iPhone version of this textbook, which this review will cover.

The Merck Manual Professional Edition is a pedestrian representation of the full text, but, it easily succeeds in making the immense amount of information easily accessible. And, for about half the price of the text (and, even better, a far smaller fraction of the weight), it is indeed a very useful addition to the iPhone medical library of most physicians and residents. Nevertheless, the manual is generally addressed to the clinician with limited knowledge of any given subject matter and should not be considered a substitute for specific subject-matter textbooks.

What I liked about this app:
  • an enormous amount of diagnostic and therapeutic information in your pocket – pretty amazing
  • a clear writing style that avoids excessive detail
  • topics that extend into statistics, medico-legal and even medical economics
  • hyperlinks within the text to other sections (with a back button to return) that aid comprehension
  • a clean and unobtrusive user interface

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What I did not like about this app:
  • display of graphics and tables is occasionally awkward
  • keyword searches only identify articles, not the specific section or words
What I would like to see in future versions:
  • links for further reading on a topic and more images would be very helpful, although the absence probably reflects the original text
  • a “physician’s” lay version where specific sections can be clipped and printed (with attribution) to give to patients would be a nice feature

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The Merck Manual Professional Edition iPhone app is a clean and efficient implementation of a time-tested medical encyclopedia. Many clinicians will no doubt feel that the relatively brief descriptions of complex medical conditions is at odds with their specialized, in-depth knowledge. Over time, of course, this easy confidence is little match for the real-world variety of patients that walk in the door. Perhaps this is why the manual has succeeded over so many generations. It will be interesting to observe how the Manual fares in this era of information super abundance.



Dr. Wodajo is a guest contributor to the medical app review team and we feel privileged to have him on board. He brings an extensive clinical background to the reviews. His blog can be found at