Monday, December 10, 2012

Are Physicians Using Medical Smartphone Apps?

The number and types of medical apps for physicians and other medical providers is rapidly increasing.  Smart phone apps (i.e. iPhone and Android apps) have the potential to allow physicians real time access to medical records, treatment guidelines and medical reference information. 

As these apps increase in number and type, it will be important to understand the facilitators and barriers to implementation in the medical setting.  Additionally, research will be needed to document whether physician apps actually improve the quality of care.  What seems in theory to be important, may fall short in actual clinical practice settings.

A recent survey of medical student and junior physician use of smartphone apps in the UK has recently been published in the journal BioMed Central.  Karl Frederick Braekken Payne and colleagues surveyed 257 medical students and 131 junior physicians about their ownership and use of smartphones and smartphone apps.

Seventy nine percent of the UK medical students surveyed owned a smartphone with the iPhone being the most common type (3:1 over the an Android smartphone).  Among junior physicians surveyed, 75% owned a smart phone again with the iPhone owning a significant 4:1 advantage.  The following key findings were documented in the study:
Medical students used their smartphones for both medical school education and clinical rotation functions
  • The majority of users had relatively few medical related apps (1-5 apps) on their smartphones
  • The majority of junior resident physicians used their medical related smartphone apps 20 minutes per day or less
  • Medical students were more likely to use their smartphone apps more than 20 minutes per day in clinical rotations

The attached chart shows they types of medical related smartphone apps that were used often, very often or constantly in the medical student and junior physician groups.

The medical student group tended to more frequently use drug reference, disease management and procedure/case documentation apps compared to the junior physician group.

The junior physician group tended to use medical calculator/clinical score apps more frequently.  It is unclear whether these trends represent true cohort differences between medical students and junior physicians or a tendency with increased skill level to become less reliant on smartphone app use.

One of the barriers to smartphone and smartphone app use in the study was cost.  Medical students and junior physician noted device cost and app cost were barriers to medical related smartphone app implementation.

The survey also showed that medical students and junior physicians at times did not use available apps in the presence of patients or medical supervisors.  One concern was that smartphone app use could be misinterpreted as just checking personal email or web-surfing.

There would seem to be an important opportunity to grow the use of smartphones for documentation of educational experiences.  Medical students and junior physicians are increasingly required to document the number and type of procedure experiences during training.  The smartphone (with central backup) would seem to be an important tool for this process.

The research study authors conclude that their survey showed "junior doctors and medical students are overwhelmingly enthusiastic and endorse organisational associated apps that help their learning activities".  Clearly there are also barriers that need to be overcome.

It will be important that medical related app development be paired with research studies of their implementation and value of such devices in the medical care setting.

Readers with more interest in the details of this survey can access the free article by clicking on the PMID link below.

Top figure is an iPod screen shot of the medical related drug reference app Epocrates from the author's files.

The figure is an original figure for this post produced from data provided in the manuscript.

Payne KF, Wharrad H, & Watts K (2012). Smartphone and medical related App use among medical students and junior doctors in the United Kingdom (UK): a regional survey. BMC medical informatics and decision making, 12 PMID: 23110712

1 comment:

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