Many doctors and patients are familiar with WebMD.com and its far-reaching Symptom Checker.
The Symptom Checker is a tool that provides a differential diagnosis based on a questionnaire that the user fills out.
WebMD has become the go-to site for patients who desire answers for their health questions, in a format that is easily understandable.
In order to make this database and other features more accessible to mobile users, they have created a new WebMD App.
At first glance, the user interface surprised me with its clean, polished, and stunningly gorgeous interface, which is leaps and bounds better than its website counterpart. Will this sleek UI translate to a hit for patients?
WebMD Healthy Living: Ambitious and Beautiful, but Limited
The app is broken down into two major sections (Healthy Living, and Health Tools), but initially points you toward the Healthy Living portion of the app.
When launching the WebMD app for the first time, a beautiful tutorial orients the user and then asks them for the subject matter that interests them most: Fitness/Exercise, Healthy Beauty, Men’s Style, Healthy Eating, Parenting/Family, Sex/Relationships.
You are then asked to select your lifestyle goals: Balance Life, Lose Weight, Save Money, Reduce Stress, Stay Healthy, and Sleep Better. As I imagine most would, I checked nearly every box in those two screens, excited for what was to come next.
The app’s home screen is the WebMD Healthy Living section, which consists of a beautiful “cover” (my description) consisting of a high-resolution photo and headline, such as “How to Banish a Blemish.” Swiping horizontally brings up a different but equally gorgeous cover with a different topic. In total, there are 8 different covers, which vary from tips to how-to’s to simple definitions. If a particular cover catches your eye, swiping up on the cover takes you to a mobile webpage of that article. Once the article is brought up, the interface returns down to earth, and it is essentially a shell for a mobile website.
The best way to understand the Healthy Living portion of the app is that it’s essentially a weekly Healthy Lifestyle magazine. Every week, you are provided with 8 articles, each with beautiful covers. While each article will link to several related articles, there’s no clear searchable index or even a category search. What you see is essentially what you get–while you are presented on setup with the option of selecting topics and lifestyle goals, they don’t make that dramatic a difference on the content. I tried deselecting all but two topics and lifestyle goals, and all it did was decrease the number of articles from 8 to 4, but did not introduce any new articles.
If the editorial staff at WebMD continue to pump in a lot of effort by picking rich articles, and continue to make high quality “covers,” the Healthy Living feature could grow in popularity. At this point, though, my concern is that this might be a novelty that quickly wears off and that users won’t be tuning in each week to find out new content.
WebMD Health Tools: The Useful Patient-Centric Reference
Accessing the main menu by tapping on the top left icon on the home screen reveals the meatier, more well-known portion of WebMD, the Health Tools. This includes the famous Symptom Checker, in addition to references for medications, medical conditions, tests/procedures, medical terms, First Aid information, and local health listings. The interface in this section of the app is notably less refined, but is highly functional and easy to navigate.
The Symptom Checker is a faithful execution of the website tool, starting with the option for selecting a body part from a figure or list. Using this system, you can add a combination of symptoms to your list of “My Symptoms.” Certain symptoms will bring up a pop-up of further questions helping clarify the symptom.
For example, after selecting “Shortness of Breath,” I was asked about the onset of symptoms, severity of symptoms, etc. When you’re done selecting all the symptoms, you tap “View Possible Conditions,” and are presented a list of possible conditions. Each condition is a tappable list that takes you to a patient information page.
Alternatively, you can search directly for patient information on diseases. This will bring up a page that lists patient-centric information, which is broken down into Symptoms, Overview, What to Expect, Treatment, When to See Your Doctor, Questions to Ask Your Doctor, Diagnosed By, How Common, and Risk Factors. From my various encounters with WebMD, these patient information articles are usually well written and accurate, and easy to understand. Similarly, the Health Tools include a searchable database of medications, medical terms, and tests/procedures.
The WebMD Health Tools also includes two useful features, which I had not previously been aware of. First off, the First Aid Information section has short review articles on common First Aid tips for various situations, such as Allergic Reactions, Asthma Attack, Choking, etc. While obviously not a comprehensive resource, it provides a quick run-down of management tips, and indications for calling 911. These are questions that I’ve often found myself answering to relatives and acquaintances, and often I wouldn’t be able to provide much more help than what’s described.
Lastly, this portion of the app has a searchable directory of Local Health Listings. One can search by location/specialty for a physician, hospital, or pharmacy. As a test run, a cursory glance revealed an exhaustive list of endocrinologists in the area. The app provides addresses, phone numbers, and a map. There are no ratings or evaluations tied in to these listings.
Conclusion: A Highly Recommended Patient-Centric App
Much like the excellent WebMD-owned Medscape app for physicians, the WebMD app for patients should prove to be an invaluable app that stands above its competition. The WebMD Health Tools section of the app (which is not the home screen by default) is the true gem of the app. It features a thorough and comprehensive database of medications, symptoms, medical terminology, and diseases, each with an article written in laymen terminology that is for the most part accurate. Furthermore, the First Aid guide and Local Health Listings are also a bonus, with useful tips and a quick reference tool to find local doctors, pharmacies, and hospitals.
On the other hand, the Healthy Living section of the app seems a bit overly ambitious. While I appreciate its gorgeous interface and aesthetically pleasing article “covers,” it seems a bit gimmicky as it essentially links to a random selection of up to 8 articles per week from WebMD’s expansive library of articles. It almost functions as a weekly magazine of sorts, and could potentially succeed in garnering a regular readership. However, I’ve noticed that the app’s featured content does not even correspond with the main content featured on WebMD’s Healthy Living website, which leads me to suspect that these articles are not necessarily recent.
All in all, I would highly recommend the WebMD app for patients who are actively concerned about their health and are looking for detailed patient-centric information on their medical issues.