Last year our Editor, Tom Lewis, uncovered several applications available on the iTunes store that plagiarized other work. Many of the applications identified had taken their information from medical textbooks, including images and figures. While not uncommon, the practice of creating apps with other proprietary information has been a concerning feature due to the review process for most apps on the app store.
Currently, there is no way to scrutinize apps prior to release to ensure the information is correct or where it came from. As such, developers have taken advantage of the system and created apps of popular medical texts, masquerading them around as their own information.
Case in point, the BMJ just published an example of three doctors accused of plagiarizing the Doctor’s Guide to Critical Appraisal. The app was called Critical APPraisal, and was released in July 2011.
What is most interesting, and seems to be the overall case in these instances, is that the creators of these apps give the apps a great review, often without disclosing their conflict of interest. What must be asked is whether the rating of these apps are self-inflated by the developers themselves, and, if so, how this impacts the overall appeal of the app to others.
The concern inherent to this issue is just how prevalent is plagiarism among medical reference applications, and what can be done to prevent or identify instances of plagiarism.
Ideally, there should be a more intense evaluation process for medical related apps, but that would slow down the release of apps to the stores and would make the overall process a deterrent to many developers. What would be beneficial is a reporting process that can identify the apps by users and create a quick warning to the medical community as well as notify pertinent parties (e.g. developers, app store).
Overall, this specific case may serve as a warning to future developers that may cut corners or seek to capitalize from others work. The Medical Practitioners’ Tribunal Service (MPTS) is taking up this case due to the three doctors instances of plagiarism and supplying false reviews with a conflict of interest. They face the possibility of the withdrawal or suspension of their medical licenses.