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Open Access Publications from the University of California

There’s an App for That? Highlighting the Difficulty in Finding Clinically Relevant Smartphone Applications


Introduction: The use of personal mobile devices in the medical field has grown quickly, and a large proportion of physicians use their mobile devices as an immediate resource for clinical decision-making, prescription information and other medical information. The iTunes App Store (Apple, Inc.) contains approximately 20,000 apps in its “Medical” category, providing a robust repository of resources for clinicians; however, this represents only 2% of the entire App Store. The App Store does not have strict criteria for identifying content specific to practicing physicians, making the identification of clinically relevant content difficult. The objective of this study is to quantify the characteristics of existing medical applications in the iTunes App Store that could be used by emergency physicians, residents, or medical students.

Methods: We found applications related to emergency medicine (EM) by searching the iTunes App Store for 21 terms representing core content areas of EM, such as “emergency medicine,” “critical care,” “orthopedics,” and “procedures.” Two physicians independently reviewed descriptions of these applications in the App Store and categorized each as the following: Clinically Relevant, Book/Published Source, Non-English, Study Tools, or Not Relevant. A third physician reviewer resolved disagreements about categorization. Descriptive statistics were calculated.

Results: We found a total of 7,699 apps from the 21 search terms, of which 17.8% were clinical, 9.6% were based on a book or published source, 1.6% were non-English, 0.7% were clinically relevant patient education resources, and 4.8% were study tools. Most significantly, 64.9% were considered not relevant to medical professionals. Clinically relevant apps make up approximately 6.9% of the App Store’s “Medical” Category and 0.1% of the overall App Store.

Conclusion: Clinically relevant apps represent only a small percentage (6.9%) of the total App volume within the Medical section of the App Store. Without a structured search-and-evaluation strategy, it may be difficult for the casual user to identify this potentially useful content. Given the increasing adoption of devices in healthcare, national EM associations should consider curating these resources for their members.

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