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Eight Medical Smartphone Apps Worth Having

Eight Medical Smartphone Apps Worth Having*

Guido R. Zanni, PhD**

Licensed Psychologist, Health System Consultant

Over 40,000 health-related apps exist—a number that is expected to double over the next few years.1 Smartphone apps generally fall into two categories: clinical information (the focus of this article), and patient care monitoring. Clinical information apps allow clinicians to easily access a wide array of medical information; whereas, patient-oriented apps help patients monitor chronic conditions (e.g., diabetes, hypertension), medication adherence, weight loss, and physical fitness.

The rapid proliferation of medical apps raises serious quality control issues regarding content accuracy, reliability, and performance. Very few of these apps, especially patient-oriented apps, have been peer-reviewed or subjected to a certification process.  Consequently, regulatory agencies are scrambling to protect consumers from flawed apps. The Food and Drug Administration has recently taken an active role in evaluating apps, especially patient care apps that transform smart phones into mobile medical devices.

Despite the lack of certification standards, medical apps continue to increase without oversight. Clinicians may fine the following web site useful when selecting for apps:

  • Reviews and Commentary on Medical Apps and Mobile Health (iMedicalApps.com). This site caters primarily to physician specialties, but contains a blog for users’ commentaries on apps and other mobile medical devices.

Free vs. Purchase

Numerous free apps exist along with those requiring a one-time purchase or annual subscription fees. Purchased apps are not necessarily superior to free apps.  Many medical schools, for example, provide excellent free apps for students and healthcare professionals.

Recommended Medical Apps

Prior to selecting an app, clinicians should evaluate their information needs with the goal of selecting only a handful of highly rated apps for their specialization. Additionally, it’s important to determine if the app can be fully downloaded or requires Internet access. Healthcare professionals working in rural areas where cell signals can be sporadic may wish to focus on fully downloaded apps.

Several apps offer “one-stop shopping” with information on drugs, medical calculations, lab tests, and reference guides, but many users prefer several highly focused apps. Table 1 presents eight apps that have earned high praise for their usefulness. Readers seeking a more comprehensive listing of medical apps are referred to the web site previously mentioned as well as Apple’s web-based article listing Apple’s top 80 apps for doctors, nurses and patients.

Table 1.  Eight Recommended Smartphone Apps for Healthcare Professions

Micromedex Drug Information (free, fully downloaded) contains drug information on over 4,500 search terms, including adult and pediatric dosages, precautions, drug-drug interactions, adverse effects, toxicology and contraindications.


MedCalc (offers free and purchased apps, fully downloaded) offers several versions of a medical calculator that vary in price along with one free app.  MedCalc provides easy access to a wide array of medical formulas and scores. The app also includes detailed information and bibliographic references for each formula.


Pocket Lab Values (purchased, fully downloaded) provides access to hundreds of lab tests, reference norms, and clinical information on potential causes for values outside the reference range. Along with information on lab tests and their interpretation, the app has links to sites such as WebMD, and MedlinePlus.


Visible Body Human Anatomy (prices vary for different versions, fully downloaded) presents 3-D images of anatomical structures.  With the movement of your finger, you can rotate the image and view it from any angle. Also, users can “peel away” layers of anatomy to look at underlying anatomical structures.   Point to any single structure, and its name appears along with an explanation of its role, including the roles of its sub-structures.


University of Maryland Medical Center provides excellent and comprehensive information on thousands of diseases, injuries, and surgical interventions.  The app allows users to search on symptoms, which provide information on possible etiology along with relevant reference sources. This app requires Internet access.


Medscape (free) is among the top most downloaded medical app and provides a wide range of clinical information including daily medical news, drug references, drug interaction checker, Medscape articles, and continuing education modules, along with links to external sources such as the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed. This app requires Internet access.


NEJM This Week (free) allows users to read the latest New England Journal of Medicine’s articles and editorial opinions. The app also contains images, audio summaries of articles, and clinical videos. This app requires Internet access.


The Merck Manual – Professional Edition (most content is fully downloaded, requires a paid subscription). This is a digital version of its manual, providing information by clinical category and symptom.

Final Thought

The enthusiasm and acceptance of clinical apps rest on the assumption that apps improve patient care and clinical decision-making.  Until evidence suggests otherwise, improved patient care remains an untested assumption.


* Adapted From Zanni, G.  Medical apps worth having. The Consultant Pharmacist, 2013;322-324.

**The author discloses no financial relationship with the companies producing the apps discussed in this article.

References Available upon request.