Using Smartphones to Access Medical Reference Information

Swapna Goday, MD, MPH
Published: Monday, Sep 12, 2011
Smartphones are becoming the most transformational IT solution to ever impact healthcare. In developed countries they are in the process of changing the practice of medicine due to their ease of use and inherent portability. However, fellows face some challenges due to the learning curve involved in adapting to the smartphone’s digital delivery options. In fact, patients seem more adept at learning how to receive digital healthcare information than most physicians are at figuring out how to provide it.

The practice of healthcare lends itself well to smartphones, which provide a wide range of conveniences and workflow efficiencies that cannot be achieved with traditional tools such as notepads and pocket medical references. Smartphones allow physicians access to most updated information in the form of podcasts, smartphone apps, and more. They don’t need to carry tons of books or subscribe to dozens of hard copy journals. Podcasts are audio files that you broadcast or listen to on demand, and they usually have subscription options that allow updates to be automatically downloaded to smartphones. As for apps, for the iPhone alone there are currently almost 6000 medical-related apps in Apple’s App Store. Apps targeted to physicians include alerts, medical reference tools, diagnostic tools, and continuing medical education. Podcasts and apps give you the option of accessing only what you need, when you need it.

In the oncology world, protocols, interventions, and research change at a rapid pace, causing day-to-day variations in the ways that patients are treated. It is very important for an oncologist to have the most up-to-date information as soon as it is available. Smartphones are always connected to the information source and are capable of providing instant updates. For oncologists, the smartphone is able to access drug reference guides on the go, monitor a patient’s health conditions, and securely share electronic health records. Consequently, there is tremendous improvement in the time taken to make decisions. Healthcare is now a team effort, and using voice over IP (VoIP), unified communication tools, and instant messaging allow for effective clinical collaboration. If an oncologist receives an alert about a patient, he or she can call 2 colleagues instantly on a smartphone for a second opinion.

Oncologists are using their smartphones to hasten access to the most updated information and also to expedite the decision-making process. And you no longer see this pattern only among young oncologists; senior physicians are doing it as well. With advancing technology, more and more clinical data can be accessed, including NCCN guidelines and clinical articles from numerous medical journals. Not only are there apps for calculating prognostic scores to give survival estimates, but also apps to access the most recent clinical trials in progress. With such rapidly changing clinical practices and ongoing research, it is difficult for oncologists to stay up to speed on all the latest advances. But the apps that give access to the chemotherapy protocols, drug regimens, and the most updated research are an enormous information resource for oncologists.

The access to online oncology communities such as Sermo.com and QuantiaMD has been made even easier with smartphones. You can post clinical questions and discuss them online with your colleagues and seek their expertise. Mobile technology, which includes iPads, is a revolutionary change for access to medical information. We can access these devices to show lab trends and imaging studies, as well as explain to patients—in a pictorial format—their diagnosis and its implications. The ease of access to this kind of information can save a lot of time and ensure faster delivery of quality care to the patients. The accessibility to the healthcare information at the point of care makes a huge difference in decision making, both for the patient and the oncologist. It can reduce the burdens of apprehension and anxiety associated with the diagnosis, treatment options, and prognosis for the patient and his or her family.

Epocrates is another popular app that is used by oncologists. Epocrates not only provides drug information but also dosages, adverse reactions, interactions with other medications, pricing, brand names, body surface area calculations, chemotherapy dosage calculations, and more.

In the past, such apps were used primarily on PDAs. However, with the advent of smartphones and other mobile devices, the apps can be easily installed and accessed on the phone at any time. Over the past few years, there has been an increasing trend of using smartphones and other mobile devices as sources for reference information. This is a big step forward from the days of PDAs and, further back, hard copy books and journals. With the rapidly changing clinical advances in oncology, the trend toward accessing resources via smartphone will only increase.


This edition of Oncology Fellows is supported by Genentech, a member of the Roche Group.



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