Review of QxMD app for iOS & Android

It has been almost two years since we last reviewed the journal app Read. Since then, it has undergone a number of changes so we’re going to take a fresh look to help you decide if Read is the medical literature tool for you.

One big change is a feature we asked for in our original review – the ability to annotate and manage PDFs.

The basics remain the same: you must create an account with Read, which means sharing information about your specialty and institution. Read will then make some suggestions for journals and collections for you to follow based on your specialty. Setting your institutional affiliation allows you to access your institutions’ full-text journal collections.

There are a few ways to browse journal content. The landing screen is Featured Papers, which presents citations from your specialty and a mix of any journals, collections, and keywords you might follow. If you are not following specific journals, your featured papers are likely to pull from collections and recommended papers, which means they may be considered important by another Read user but could be out of date.

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Read is a great way to stay current in your specialty’s literature. My Followed Journals displays citations from recent issues of the journals you select. Journals in your specialty are suggested, but you can easily add other titles as well at any time. I spot-checked 10 journal titles in a variety of disciplines and found that 9/10 were current. One was a month behind.

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Under My Followed Collections, you can browse and follow public collections of citations. There are some recognized collections, such as JAMA’s “Rational Clinical Examination” series and New England Journal of Medicine’s “Images in Clinical Medicine.” Collections are created by QxMD and by other Read users. Examples include collections of key articles in a specialty or on a certain topic.

My Followed Keywords lets you create alerts based on keyword searches of PubMed but this function is only as good as the search. A keyword alert on “mobile”, for example, will have a lot of false hits. The options are very limited and a MeSH-based or thorough search is not possible within Read.

When you see an article you like, clicking on it pre-downloads the PDF so that you can view it with one action. This will work for freely available papers and for journals your library subscribes to, if you’ve included that information when registering.

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You can annotate PDFs by highlighting, underlining, making notes, and even free-hand drawing. You can also post comments or rate the article with a thumbs up (helpful) or thumbs down (not helpful) and functionality for sharing papers on Facebook, Twitter and email are included as well. When looking at a paper, you can also view other Read users’ comments, if available.

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If you annotate a PDF, you have to save it. When you save papers, you are prompted to create a collection and collections can be either private or public. Public collections are visible to other Read users. You can classify the papers you save as being Landmark Research or an Outstanding Clinical Review. Presumably this will feed into Read’s algorithm for selecting Topic Reviews and Featured Papers.

Downloads are stored on your own device and clicking on Manage Downloads under Settings allows you to easily scan the ones you have saved and delete any you are no longer interested in.

Topic Reviews offers a way to browse review articles by topic though it is not entirely clear how these are selected. The app offers a form to recommend a paper/topic, so some of this could be crowd-sourced. Browsing down to a topic review on investigational therapies in cystic fibrosis lands at a 3.5 year old article. Possibly more users will begin to suggest articles and the relevance and timeliness of these Topic Reviews will improve.

Saved papers and collections are accessed under the star.

67058-12 - search results
On the Search page, Read declares that it “search[es] the entire medical literature” and provides “highly relevant results on page 1.” Instructions suggest filtering “by topics to find outstanding review articles” and that “[o]ur goal is to provide the best search experience for the medical literature. We refine results using dozens of signals and algorithms not found anywhere else.”

Claims of the best searching are hard to live up to, especially when that search delivers 3 year old articles on page 1. Presumably, the signals used by the search are the activity of Read users themselves. Search results from the same keywords vary on different days, likely because different articles have been recommended.

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Settings can be customized at any time. Mostly this includes institutional affiliation (for full-text access), app layout and preferences such as automatic downloading of PDFs, turning on CME tracking, and managing downloads.

Evidence Behind the App
QxMD is merely a conduit for accessing information from medical journals. However, by suggesting articles in its Topic Review section, it runs the risk of promoting out-of-date or low quality evidence.

  • Price
    • Free
    • The ability to create collections of articles, annotate PDFs, and store documents locally on your device.
    • Having a Table of Contents of all new journals in one place.
    • Ability to share collections among programs or groups of clinicians may be valuable.
    • Layout is intuitive and attractive.
  • Dislikes
    • Topic Reviews are out-of-date. Relying on older review articles and recommendations from other Read users may not be sufficient in curating a valuable collection of high quality articles.
    • Search functionality under-performs.
  • Overall

    Read offers an excellent way to keep up with new articles from journals of interest and to manage small collections of PDFs for easy access on mobile devices.

  • Overall Score
  • User Interface

    The user interface is clean and intuitive.

  • Multimedia Usage
    • N/A
  • Price

    The app remains free to users. It’s worth noting that it doesn’t give you content you wouldn’t otherwise get from your institution or from free journals. Users without institutional affiliations may be frustrated by an inability to download PDFs.

  • Real World Applicability

    This is a useful app for following journals and building small collections of relevant articles.

  • Available for DownloadAndroidiPhoneiPadWindows