If you can think of it, there is probably an app for it. It’s true that a lot are built purely for entertainment, but others are attempting to fill more serious needs, including those related to medical care.
There are hundreds of health apps that do things like remind you to take medications, monitor vitals, track exercise and more. But this world of mobile apps is new and in many cases doctors are not ready to rely on them. Like anything new in medicine, these tools need time to be vetted scientifically; they need to be proven valid, reliable, and possibly even approved by the FDA.
That said, patients are using these apps now. “Apps are here and more are coming whether collectively we agree with it or not,” says Jaime M. Hatcher-Martin, MD, PhD, a neurologist in Georgia. “It’s important for us to be able to guide our patients as far as what are the reliable sources.”
Dr. Martin is one of many physicians interested in the potential benefit of medically-related apps. She even consulted with Apple’s CareKit project. CareKit is an app platform developed to pair medical researchers with app users for data collection. “The ability to more objectively and more frequently get information from our patients between visits would be really helpful,” she says. “Not just for treatment decisions, but also in trying to decide whether a patient is a candidate for a clinical trial.”
Though the ultimate results of this project are still far off, Dr. Martin has found good uses for a few apps that are available now. They help her in her everyday practice but not in the way you might think. She doesn’t use data collected by her patients in a blood pressure app, for example. Instead she uses apps that make her job a little easier, both in the room with the patient and out of it.
Apps to use in the room
Epocrates is a medical reference app for healthcare providers that offers information on drugs, medical news, journal articles, and diagnosis codes. “Occasionally I’ll have a question about a dosing of something that I don’t use as regularly or interactions or what size the dosing tablet comes in. So I use Epocrates a lot just for that,” says Dr. Martin.
The app is available in iOS and Android formats with both free and paid options.
According to Dr. Martin,“GoodRx is a great app for patients who are paying cash for prescriptions. You put in the medications and what dose and how many tablets, and you put in your zip code, and it’ll give you a list of locations that are close to you and then the cost of medications at each of those locations.”
The app also offers drug coupons. GoodRx is available for iOS and Android and the app is free.
The Pocket Eye Exam app is made for neurologists by neurologists. Dr. Martin uses it frequently in the clinic to test for optokinetic nystagmus (OKN) and color blindness. She always has her phone with her anyway so it saves her from having to carry more things in her pockets. “The app basically has red- and white-colored bars that just run by on the screen, and you can change the direction of them. It does the same thing as that long strip of fabric or paper, it’s just on my phone.”
This app is only available for iOS devices and it costs just under $2 (at the time of this publication).
“The NIH stroke scale is a quick assessment that’s used to test a patient’s ability for movement, speaking, interpreting things,” says Dr. Martin. “There are words to read or pictures [patients] have to look at and tell you what’s going on. Instead of carrying all these papers or booklets in your pocket, you can click on your screen and ask, ‘Can you identify these objects?’ ‘Can you read these words?’”
This app is free and only available for iOS devices.
Apps to use outside the room
UpToDate is another app created by physicians. It is designed as an information bank to help physicians with clinical decision-making. According to Dr. Martin, “It has a brief summary of pretty much any disease you can think of. It’s really great for things that are not part of your everyday repertoire. It gives you references, and it’s updated pretty regularly. You can also get continuing medical education credits, which is always nice.”
This app is available for iOS and Android devices. Full access requires a subscription.
Professional Org Apps
This recommendation is less specific and differs depending on your specialty. Dr. Martin, who is a movement disorders specialist, says “My two big academies are the American Academy of Neurology and the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society. I will often use their apps if there’s something that I’m seeing that I don’t see on a regular basis. You can quickly pull up all sorts of treatment guidelines.” The American Academy of Neurology has a few free apps to choose from. Their Concussion Quick Check app is only available on iOS and their Muscle Disease Guidelines app is available for iOS and Android.
Doximity is a social networking app for medical professionals. It is a good place to connect with other neurologists, referral sources and researchers. Dr. Martin doesn’t use it much for social networking, though. “There’s enough social media stuff as it is. I can’t keep up with another one. I’ll use Doximity to try to find a phone number, and you can find a fax number pretty quickly too.” The app also has faxing capabilities. “Because it’s HIPAA compliant, it works great when I’m not at work and I don’t have a fax machine.”
Doximity is free and available for iOS and Android.
The Doximity Dialer app is one of Dr. Martin’s “absolute favorites.” The app allows you to call patients on your cell phone without giving away your personal cell number. You plug in your office number and that is what shows up. “I can actually call a patient when I’m sitting waiting for my kids to get in the car, whatever it is, but it’ll show up as coming from my clinic. Instead of having to call the operator and have him or her connect me, I can just call straight from my phone.”
Doximity Dialer is free and available for iOS and Android.
The point of using apps is to make your life and that of your patients easier. Today’s neurologists don’t have time to use technology just because it’s “cool.” That’s why Dr. Martin only uses apps that work on her iPhone; it has to fit in her pocket. “If apps are ever going to be integrated into our practice, they need to help and not be a hindrance: not just another thing that you have to review in clinic; not just another box that you have to check or click on your screen. It needs to provide a useful bit of information that will actually change treatment in our practice with patients.”