Recently, a new patient came to see me in clinic. I asked what medicines this individual takes. This patient told me the names of some medications but, knowing his medical history, clearly some were missing. So I asked what he takes for diabetes and he responded with a medicine that he actually takes for blood pressure. Despite being a clearly intelligent person, he really didn’t understand his medications.

That scenario is one that plays out in countless clinic visits across the country on a daily basis. Admittedly, we – doctors, physician assistants, nurse, pharmacists, etc – are part of the reason. We often don’t invest enough time in medication education and, when we do try to explain it all, there are few mechanisms to reinforce that after a patient leaves the clinic. And lack of understanding can contribute to lack of adherence, a major problem that contributes to worse outcomes and higher costs.

That’s the problem the Iodine app tries to address in an interesting way – by incorporating user reviews into their pharmacist written and curated drug information.

The home screen basically offers two ways to navigate the app: by drug or by health condition.

Home

Allergies and Cold/Flu are broken out from the start and offer symptom-based guidance for therapy. So if you have a bad cold and body aches are really your problem, it suggests acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you navigate by specific health condition, say COPD, you get a blurb on the health condition sourced from the National Library of Medicine and recommendations around drug therapy based on the user reviews.

Iodine App Screen Shot - ColdIodine App Screenshot - COPD
And it’s these crowd-sourced reviews that have really generated a lot of buzz. In time, that approach has the potential to become a really powerful tool not only for individual patients but also for things like post-market surveillance. Right now, it’s not really that useful; in fact, it leads to some pretty odd recommendations. These are the top-ranked drugs for COPD and BPH (remember the “p” stands for prostate).

Iodine App Screenshot: Top COPDIodine App Screenshot: Top BPH
In complete fairness, I did come across some useful user reviews as well. In general, the user reviews need some work though and could maybe be improved. Some form of curation of reviews (or review of reviews) would be helpful.

Jumping over to the medication information, which you can access via a health condition or by searching from the home screen, I was really impressed with the information included. A key strength of the app are its plain-language, pharmacist-written descriptions of the drug’s use, benefits, downsides/side-effects, and tips on use. Another impressive feature is the inclusion of side-effect data from drug studies; not only do you get a side effect list, but also percentages.

Lisinopril
 

Side EffectsTradeoffs
Unfortunately, it seems like only a subset of included medications have all of that information; many have generic information pages that lack much depth. In my opinion, the app could be improved by separating out the medications that have the more detailed information available and prioritizing medications for common health conditions.

Iodine App Screenshot: Dapsone

The compare function is a great idea in principle but not well implemented currently; all you can do is click back and forth between the full profile of medications you want to compare. What would be great is a side-by-side comparison (on a single screen) showing factors that would affect a patient’s decision like side-effect profile, cost, and major interactions. I recognize that would be hard to implement in a systematic way for every single drug comparison possible, but it could be implemented for common use cases like say picking between anti-hypertensives. I think that would be more useful than the current comparison tool.

Drug Compare

  • Price
    • Free
    • Excellent, plain language information on (some) medications from pharmacists
    • Side effect information that is more practical and useful
    • Interesting and potentially powerful concept (crowdsourcing medication reviews)
    • Cold/Flu and Allergy sections provide practically organized info for when patients are navigating that aisle in the pharmacy
  • Dislikes
    • Limited number of medications for which complete info is available
    • Crowdsourced reviews are really variable in quality and lead to inaccurate recommendations; this needs work
    • Limited drug compare functionality
  • Overall

    Iodine has some features that are useful now like the cold/flu and allergy sections and pharmacist-written, understandable information on some medications. Considering the app is free and doesn’t require any personal information, it could be recommended to patients for those sections. If suggesting Iodine to a patient, I’d also counsel that patient to take the user reviews and information related to specific health conditions with a grain of salt. That said, I think there’s a lot of potential here and that our review of Iodine a year from now could be very different.

  • Overall Score
  • User Interface

    Well designed, though text is a bit small

  • Multimedia Usage

    Minimal usage; since the app is focused on education, incorporation of video/audio resources would be useful

  • Price
  • Real World Applicability

    Primarily for the cold/flu and allergy sections

  • Device Used For Review

    iPhone 5S

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