With recent reports suggesting that over 75 percent of doctors use smartphones and tablets at work, it is important to ensure that these healthcare professionals are using their new tools efficiently.

We have previously evaluated a range of iPad stylus apps but here we focus on a more relevant sector – Note Taking apps.

The aim of this article is to evaluate the range of apps available for note-taking purposes and evaluate them to find out which is the most suitable for healthcare professionals. It is imagined that these apps will be used in the following range of situations:

  • Annotating lecture notes using a stylus — especially during Grand Rounds or Journal Club
  • Marking up PDF files
  • Taking patient notes at the bedside
  • Taking notes/instructions from senior physicians

In order to evaluate an apps efficacy, we need to define the key roles and functions that a note-taking app must accomplish. These are open to interpretation, however we have listed a number of features that we believe are essential:

  • App must be able to receive input via a stylus and the ‘zoom’ method
  • Ability to import/export files in PDF format (other formats desirable but not essential)

Non-essential features that we’d like to see in a Note-Taking app:

  • Ability to handle templates
  • Cloud storage service support such as Dropbox
  • Ability to add additional media such as images, audio etc
  • Security features such as a password/passcode lock

A number of really great note-taking apps have come onto the App Store since we last reviewed a range of iPad stylus apps. We are specifically focusing on apps that have a ‘zoom’ mode as this is considered an essential feature. To quote from our original review of Stylus Apps for the iPad:

“The Zoom Mode is a feature that allows the user to write in a zoomed-in box that then shrinks down the text, leading to the overall result of something much more similar to the fine tip of a pen. To better understand this concept, it’s like shrinking down the writing of a sharpie on a posterboard to the size of a pen on a lined piece of paper. Since you are writing in a “zoomed area”, even though you are writing with a blunt-tipped stylus or finger, the output will still be as fine as a pen.”

The apps that will be considered are (in no particular order):

  1. Notes Plus
  2. UPad
  3. Note Taker HD
  4. Noteshelf
  5. GoodNotes

Notable mentions also go to:

  1. iAnnotate PDF
  2. Keynote
  3. GoodReader
  4. PDF Expert

Below is a quick summary of each apps major strengths and weaknesses. In order to test the ease of use and functionality of each app, a complex patient note was created and written using each app. A sample lecture was annotated separately using each app in order to compare and contrast the different apps. One of the issues encountered whilst annotating lectures is the difficulty of managing Powerpoint files. All of the apps discussed here work best with Portable Document Files (PDF) rather than .ppt(x).

There are two ways around this; first, powerpoint lectures are converted to PDF using a desktop computer in advance of each lecture (difficult if you are a busy doctor). Alternatively, there are a number of apps that will convert office documents to PDFs on the iPad. In my experience most of these apps perform very poorly at this task and do not format the resulting PDFs particularly well. The most impressive PDF converter app I have encountered (and use regularly) is Office to PDF although it should be noted that this app does perform the file conversion on an off-site server so caution should be taken with sensitive documents.