Health care professionals have been patiently waiting for the expansion of the Android universe to hit the world of medical apps.  With the exception of Unbound Medicine – who have done a very nice job in rolling their products into the Android Market – users of Android mobile devices have thus far been relegated mostly to the world of medical calculators and dictionaries. For Android owners, the release of Epocrates could not have come sooner. If you are in the field of medicine, you are probably familiar with Epocrates.  We reviewed Epocrates on the iPhone before.  And for health care professionals and students, Epocrates, honestly, needs no introduction.  From the short-white-coat student to the tech-savvy clinician, Epocrates has, for years, been an essential tool in refreshing those synapses you made in pharmacology class (or didn’t make). The field of pharmacology is ever changing.  Epocrates helps many of us stay on top of it all, and improve care for patients.

Keep in mind, the version of Epocrates Rx currently available and reviewed here is still in BETA.  So many of the richer features available on other platforms are still missing for Android. Also, one of the difficulties in reviewing any app for Android is the potential for variability in user experience between OS versions, and from phone to phone.  This review is based on the HTC MyTouch, which runs on Android OS v1.6.

Epocrates downloads from the mobile-based Android Market.  Total application size is 6.48MB.  This is fairly large – by comparison, Google Maps with Navigation is only 5.22MB.  Users who do not see Epocrates in the Market are probably running an older version of the Android OS.  Epocrates runs on v1.6 or later. This is a problem for many Android owners who bought phones before Fall, 2009. Unfortunately the only viable solution (that I know of) is to write your phone manufacturer with pleas for OS updates. A free Epocrates online account is necessary to run the app.

Layout and Navigation

Don’t let the poor-quality screenshots fool you, the app looks great on the MyTouch. Epocrates opens quickly, and does not slow phone function while it runs.  The app runs well and looks sharp in both portrait and landscape orientations.  On T-Mobile, you can even search Epocrates while on a phone call.  Can your phone and your network do that?

The main menu contains:

  • Search Epocrates
  • A self-promotion banner (“Start using Pill ID now”)
  • Favorites Menu (including Interaction Check and Pill ID)
  • Tools Menu (including Drug Reference, Tables, and Med Math)
  • Other Menu (including History, and Help)

Every screen in the app contains the “e” button, which brings the user back to the main menu in one click.  Those familiar with Epocrates on other platforms will find the user interface and navigation very familiar.  New users of Epocrates on Android will be able to navigate the very intuitive UI with little effort.  The “Add to Favorites” button located at the bottom of the page allows you to put almost any drug or table in the Favorites Menu.  This is a great function for the wards – particularly for those services where there are only a handful of drugs commonly used.  On a Cards rotation, med students could put diuretics, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and statins right on the front menu.  The History menu creates a log of your navigation through Epocrates, and allows a quick return to previously viewed sub-menus and pages.

Other features

Like Epocrates on the iPhone, the Android BETA version has many useful features that run very well on Android.  Briefly…

  • Interaction Check:  Some clinicians have an encyclopedic memory of drug interactions.  For the rest of us, this feature allows a quick check of interactions – benign or deadly.  Up to 30 drugs can be added to the interaction list.  Very useful for those middle-of-the-night calls about changing Mr. Johnson’s antibiotic.
    **Interactions can also be viewed for each drug, or added to the Interaction Check List from an each Drug Reference page
  • Pill ID: A standard feature of Epocrates.  For identifying the ambiguous round pink pill that the patient in the clinic or ED sort-of remembers taking.  Photos of each pill can be enlarged with a click.
  • Drug Reference: Browse by Drug Class.  For example, Cardiovascular –> Antiplatelets –> anagrelide.  Extensive drug information with open-and-close menus, including:
    • Adult Dosing
    • Peds Dosing
    • Blackbox Warnings
    • Contraindications/Cautions
    • Adverse Reactions
    • Drug Interactions
    • Safety/Monitoring
    • Pharmacology
    • Manufacturer/Pricing
    • Pill Pictures (same as the Pill ID menu)

  • Tables: An under-appreciated feature of Epocrates with helpful clinical suggestions, guidelines, and protocols.
    Looking for the Beers Criteria of potentially inappropriate drugs for geriatric patients?
    Walk into a code – patient in Asystole/PEA – and don’t remember which IV drug to give?
    This menu has those answers, and many more too numerous to mention here.
  • MedMath: Over 40 clinical calculators.  A nice add-on feature with many commonly-used medical calculators, but not nearly as comprehensive as other medical calculators like Skyscape’s Archimedes (another free app available on the Android Market).
  • Help: A minor menu containing Abbreviation List and Epocrates Support information.

Likes
  • All the features of Epocrates, running well on Android.  Fantastic, as expected.
  • Attractive and user-friendly UI.
  • Extensive and relevant information.
  • A very useful tool for clinicians at the point of patient care.
Dislikes
  • Screen sensitivity was uncharacteristically unresponsive on the MyTouch.  This problem was usually fixed after flipping through a few menus, and coming back to the problem area.  A mild annoyance if this is a “beta issue”, but a major problem if not resolved in future versions.
  • Only available for Android Operating System v1.6 and newer.
  • The banner below the search bar announcing features of the app.  Not needed, and consumes valuable screen property.
  • We patiently await the arrival of premium clinical features in future.
Conclusion

The newest member of the Epocrates family is a long-awaited and warmly-welcomed addition to the Android OS.  While still in Beta, this free version of Epocrates Rx performs well (with the exception of some screen insensitivity problems that may be specific to the MyTouch), and lives up to what health care professionals and students have come to expect from Epocrates. Epocrates Rx (Free) is a must-have app for Android owners in the medical field.  And you can’t beat the price tag. We look forward to future releases of other Epocrates products (including Rx Pro, Essentials, and Essentials Deluxe).  Our readers can expect a continued and extended review, complete with more screenshots, when these versions are introduced to the Android Market.

Link to Website and Download: http://www.epocrates.com/products/android/

Editors Note: This is the first medical app review we’ve done for the Android platform. We’re excited that Brett will be providing the site reviews of Android medical apps, along with iPhone medical apps.