By: Marc-Emile Plourde, MD | Guest Post

As a physician and a developer, I have the opportunity of being able to see both sides of the app business.

Here are my thoughts on how to find useful medical apps on the AppStore.

1. Determine exactly what you’re looking for.

It seems obvious, but there’s a lot available on the AppStore .

Are you looking at organizing your collection of PDFs? Getting the latest anticoagulation guidelines? An app to educate your patients?

There are also many useless apps out there, so you want to make sure you’re spending your money (or precious time) on something you need and will use. If you just got your first iOS device, then I would start with #2.

2. Search or browse iMedicalapps.

If you can’t find a review for the app you’re interested in, that’s OK; there are too many apps to review them all.

However, I would never buy an app that received a bad review from iMA. iMA’s top apps is also a good place to start your search.  Also, make sure to use the search tool that enables you to input your specialty so you can find specific apps.

3. Search for apps using keywords, or simply browse the AppStore.

Apple allows developers to assign keywords to their apps. Keep in mind that developers can submit a limit of 100 characters. Meaning: if you search, for example, for HAS-BLED, MedCalc won’t show up in your results, even though it is included in the calculations offered by that app. It’s a drawback to keep in mind. Browsing the top 200 apps (purchased and free) is also a good starting point.

4. Look at the app’s description and screenshots.

Many people buy apps without looking at the full description. Take a few seconds to go through it; it’s well worth your time. A medical app is more than a bunch of info packed into a downloadable format; think about how you will interact with the app in a clinical or educational setting.

5. Look at the reviews.

There are two components to a review: the star rating and the actual reviews. The star rating for the current version of an app appears only when it received five ratings for the same version. After an update to the app, the star rating defaults back to “rating for all versions”

The actual reviews are different. These remain visible for all versions, meaning that you should make sure you’re looking at a review of a recent version of the app you’re interested in before making a judgment call.

This is important because you might be looking at a review of version 1.0, but the app might be currently at version 6.2: very different.

Look at the quality of the reviews. Keep in mind a few things:

Dishonest developers can play the review system by hiring people to write either good reviews for them or bad reviews for their competitors. Prior to iOS 4.0, when the user deleted an app from a device, there would be a prompt asking to review the app. If you don’t like the app and want to delete it, then chances are you won’t give the app a good review. Most of the older apps were getting bad reviews in part because of this behavior.

Things to keep in mind:

Apple’s app approval process has received a lot of press over the years. It’s especially important for health-care professionals to understand that Apple does not look at the quality of the information contained in the app.

It is simply trying to prevent three kinds of apps from making it to the AppStore:

  1. viruses
  2. those that are not doing what they’re being advertised for or that are using non-allowed technologies (Flash anyone?)
  3. pornography

Apple doesn’t care whether an app is recommending giving D5% or NS to a patient with an MI.

Free apps by big publishers are not free. Those people are in the data business, selling info on what you’re looking at in the clinic. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it’s important that users understand this. Here’s a well-written article iMedicalApps published on this topic.

Always remember to use clinical judgment when practicing medicine; the same goes when buying/installing/using an app.

Marc-Emile Plourde, MD is a 5th year radiation oncology resident at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada. He’s the lead author of MD on Call app and the co-founder of Messil Inc, a company creating useful medical apps.