With the large amount of material physicians are expected to know better than the back of their hands, medical students frantically thumbing through reference books are not an uncommon sight on the wards.  Though there are copious amounts of information to learn, a clerk’s white coat pockets have only a finite space.  Thus, past generations of clerks have equipped themselves with the most compact but high yield medical handbooks available.

The digital age and rise of the electronic comprehensive mobile medical reference have initiated a huge shift in this paradigm.  With relatively comprehensive references such as Epocrates and Medscape available on the ubiquitous smartphone, more and more clerks prefer the weight of a few extra electrons (medical apps) to the weight of bulky texts.  This of course, leaves current vendors of paper texts with a dilemma: should they continue as per norm and risk watching their consumer base atrophy under the weight of the digital trend?

Lange’s Current Essentials of Medicine straddles this line between handbook and electronic reference: it is an electronic handbook reference.  Now in its fourth edition, it is available both in traditional handbook form and as a universal app for iPhone and iPad.

Staying close to its roots as a handbook reference, Current Essentials of Medicine provides quick 1-page summaries of over 500 diseases.  Indeed, the information presented is quite distilled, and is very reminiscent of a studious medical student’s notes.  One can definitely skim through the essentials of a disease in a minute or two.

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Navigation through the app is fairly simple, and arguably faster than thumbing through a book.  The contents are organized into categories and alphabetically.  One merely has to select a category, and then scroll through to find the desired disease.  There are also options for viewing the article of the day, a random article, bookmarking, saving a history of viewed articles, and searching by disease name or keyword.

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Unfortunately, Current Essentials of Medicine is a prisoner of its own roots (even the app description comes from the book description).  As a handbook-cum-app, Current Essentials of Medicine never strays far from its handbook ancestry and space limitations.  Five-hundred diseases are nearly not enough to cover all of medicine.  Though I’m by no means an otolaryngologist, I’m pretty sure the 11 ENT diseases in the app (as illustrated below) do not nearly cover the spectrum of diseases that the general practitioner will have to know.  While a 608-page handbook is a good size for a white coat pocket, there is no such size restriction with medical apps, and the relatively small amount of content leaves me wishing for more.

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Another part of the app’s handbook heritage that has been unfortunately carried over is its price: $39.99.  While this is exactly on-par with the handbook price, minus the 30% cut Apple takes from all sales, $39.99 is a princely sum, if not a king’s ransom, when it comes to apps.  With so many available options for apps, there is a huge downward pressure on prices, and unfortunately, this app may be priced out-of-range for many medical students.  With a robust reference such as Medscape available for free, it will be hard for students to justify purchasing this app.  While the price may be fair for the handbook itself, the reality of the App Store market is not addressed with this pricing.

Current Essentials of Medicine thus represents the struggle of handbook publishers trying to adapt to a brand new world.  While comprehensive and authoritative textbooks are not going the way of the dinosaurs anytime soon, small quick references face a far greater challenge.  Just as people often wear the same few pairs of jeans, they often will only use the same few apps on a long-term basis, and at the end of the day, Current Essentials of Medicine may not be one of them.

Likes:

  • Bite-sized summaries of essential points on diseases
  • Clean and quick navigation, universal app suitable for offline use

Dislikes:

  • Range of diseases covered is much too small
  • Expensive for much of the target audience

Price:

  • $39.99

Conclusion:

  • Current Essentials of Medicine is a good handbook of common diseases, but its scope of coverage is relatively small, and it’s expensive compared to other options.

Find the app on iTunes here