By: Alberto J. Montero, MD, MBA
Staying current in oncology is a challenge these days. The rapid proliferation of a dizzying array of targeted anti-neoplastic agents that have emerged over the last decade is indeed a blessing for many cancer patients, but consequently they have also greatly increased the complexity of medical oncology.
In this context, NCCN guidelines are particularly useful for all practicing oncologists, whether you are a general oncologist or a sub-specialist in academics. Truth be told, NCCN guidelines are not perfect, however they are updated regularly and recommendations are categorized based on the strength of the evidence that they are based on, according to the landscape of oncology. Category 1 recommendations are based on high level evidence, such as randomized phase 3 clinical trial, and category 3 recommendations have conflicting evidence where there is no clear consensus.
Where it gets rather confusing is when one types “NCCN guidelines” or “NCCN” in the iTunes store and several different options appear. These can be divided into apps directly created by NCCN and derivative apps, i.e. apps that utilize the actual NCCN guidelines and provide this as reference material. For example, Epocrates offers an NCCN guidelines app.
While this app is easy to use, one major disadvantage is that it only provides access to the guidelines for breast, colon, prostate cancers and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. In other words, if you were interested in accessing the NCCN guidelines to lung cancer, one would still need to download the app offered by the NCCN.
The other derivative app Omnio does provide access to more of the NCCN guidelines, but has the distinct disadvantage that it is filled with annoying advertisements. Both of these do provide access to the actual NCCN guidelines in PDF format, but again this is no different than what the NCCN app offers.
The NCCN offers three different apps, however it is important to also note that one of them is for the journal of the NCCN which is distinct from the actual guidelines. The other two apps offered by the NCCN include one for the actual guidelines and one that provides assistance with reimbursement of chemotherapy drugs; both are available on iOS and Android platforms.
The NCCN app which provides access to current NCCN guidelines, is a very straightforward app. Because there are over 60 different guidelines, this app permits users to select which guidelines one would like to keep in your library. One of the great features of the app is that once you download your particular guidelines within the app, you do not need a data connection to view them later — you have offline access to them.
The app also has a separate area for favorites, enabling you access to certain guidelines quicker. Moreover, it gives users the ability to bookmark specific pages within guidelines to permit more efficient access to sections that providers are most interested in. Since the guidelines are constantly being updated within the app, you don’t need to update the app itself to update the guidelines — a nice feature.
NCCN Reimbursement Resource App
The reimbursement resource is another application offered by the NCCN, which is meant to assist patients and providers alike in successfully navigating the complex process of getting oncology drugs approved for reimbursement, as well as provide information on patient assistance programs from pharmaceutical companies.
This app provides information for providers and patients regarding reimbursement for oncology medications. This app is also very easy to navigate and allows one to search by cancer type, drug name, or by reimbursement or assistance program. Like the guidelines app, the reimbursement resource app also allows one to customize and bookmark frequently accessed medications.
Overall, both of the NCCN apps are well designed and provide easy access to useful information for the practicing oncologist.
If you are looking for NCCN guidelines in pocketable form, then you shouldn’t download the Epocrates or Omnio versions — you should use the apps developed by the NCCN.