01_altA key function of any mobile device is file management.

For healthcare professionals, management of our electronic library of PDFs – journal articles, interesting talks, and so on – can be particularly painful. This is especially true for our oncology and cardiology colleagues, for whom a new trial is released seemingly every day.

Every day, physicians, nurses, PA’s, and other healthcare professionals read and use PDFs on mobile devices for functions ranging from a quick literature review to informed clinical decisions to annotating notes during a lecture.

The aim of this article is to go through the options available for PDF management on the iPad, evaluate them, and decide which one is the most suitable for the needs of healthcare professionals.

In Part 1, we’ll explain what we were looking for and start with four apps – iBooks, Dropbox, Goodreader, and iAnnotate. In Part 2, we’ll look at Papers, PDF Expert, and Senteas – and name our pick for best PDF management app for healthcare professionals.

A word on methods

To begin, we need to define the key roles and functions that a successful PDF management app must accomplish. While these are open to interpretation, I have listed what I believe are essential functions below:

  • Ability to easily import/export PDFs
  • Ability to annotate PDFs using a range of actions. The bare minimum is the ability to highlight relevant sections and comment
  • Ability to manage a medical literature library.
  • Ability to read multiple file types e.g. Office documents, ZIP files,

Non-essential features that we’d like to see in a PDF management app:

  • Cloud Storage Integration (See our in-depth article on using Dropbox in Medicine/li>
  • Security features such as Passcode lock
  • Ability to easily fill in forms


The built in PDF editor in the iPad is iBooks which, while useful for reading documents, falls short when it comes to PDF management. The main reasons that iBooks is not useful for PDF management are listed below:

  • Inability to annotate/mark up PDFs (although basic highlighting and noting of ePUB books is possible)
  • Inability to store PDFs in a folder structure (to group different sets of documents together)
  • Inability to easily export/share PDFs

As a result, iBooks is NOT recommended for healthcare professionals. Due to the various shortcomings of iBooks, there is a wide range of PDF management apps available in the App Store. Extensive experience using the iPad in a range of situations has allowed the identification of the key apps in this sector and these are listed below (in no particular order).

  1. GoodReader
  2. PDF Expert
  3. PDF Reader Pro
  4. Sente
  5. Papers
  6. iAnnotate
  7. Dropbox

We’ll start with iAnnotate.