doctor holding smartphone with medical appAre you an obstetrician or gynecologist wondering if there are any apps that might actually enhance instead of distract you from getting work done? If so, a recent article by Farag et al. from Icahn School of Medicine will guide you in the right direction. In the article, researchers set out to identify iPhone and iPad apps that are potentially useful to obstetrician-gynecologists (ob-gyns).

The researchers used 55 MeSH terms associated with ob-gyn to identify apps in the Apple iTunes store. Search terms were entered into the iTunes search engine and a list of unique apps was created. The list of unique apps were group into various categories including consumer, medical tools, medical tools, private office and hospital, conference, simulators, non-English, games, and extraneous.

The researchers found that 242 out of 1,816 unique apps – roughly 13% – were potentially useful for ob-gyns. According to the authors, the MeSH terms with the “highest number of potentially useful apps were ‘gynecology’ (23%), ‘breast cancer’ (17%), ‘obstetrics’ (14%), and ‘pregnancy’ (12%).”

That is an important point for app developers/creators. Less than 25% of the apps were viewed as useful by one target audience – clinicians. Most of the apps were geared towards patients. However, since clinicians would search using similar search terms, the results they get are pretty low yield. Perhaps some system for labeling apps as clinician apps would be a useful tactic by developers and also entities selling apps, such as the Apple iTunes store.

According to the authors, apps were considered potentially useful if “they were apps ob-gyns could use to assist with providing patient care such as Interactive databases, Topic-Specific, Journals, Dictionaries, Sonographer- Centered, Search Engines, Books, Pregnancy Wheels, Calculators, Risk Assessments, Guideline-Specific, Patient Trackers, Sponsored Education, and Provider-Centered Simulators.” The researchers indicated that they did not conduct an in-depth review of the apps i.e. the types of reviews that iMedicalApps does. Rather, they did more superficial reviews just to assess relevance.

If you’re wondering why the researchers didn’t review Android apps, that was one of my first thoughts as well. While they don’t say in their study, the most likely reason is that iPhones have been consistently more popular among physicians than other smartphones. Apple also has substantially more medical apps than Google as iMedicalApps has reported in the past. However, there are a growing number of physicians using Android devices (perhaps due to their greater popularity in the general population) so some discussion of Android apps would have been useful.

The researchers conclude that due to the low percentage of potentially useful apps there is a need for the ob-gyn community to develop an organized effort “to identify, review, and determine the accuracy of apps that can potentially improve the performance of health care providers and lead to better patient outcomes.” They also call for a group of OB/Gyn clinicians to lead this task.

That viewpoint is reflective of ongoing concern in many fields, namely that finding useful medical apps is difficult in the current market. And as the market grows, that task, particularly when undertaken by individual clinicians, is going to get harder. Of course, iMedicalApps will continue to aide that process of “discovery” by sorting through the marketplace for you and finding those few needles in a growing haystack.