Thinking About Creating a New Medical App? Check with Doctors First
by Bunny Ellerin
April 24, 2012
It’s no longer a surprise that doctors are avid users of iPhones and iPads. What is surprising is how few mobile developers seek the input of doctors before creating apps they expect them to use. This phenomenon led one physician to take matters into his own hands — exactly where those devices live — and launch a review site for medical technology. Dr. Iltifat Husain, a first-year emergency medicine resident at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, was actually a medical student when he founded iMedicalApps in 2009. An early iPhone adopter, Husain quickly became disenchanted with the quality of clinical apps he found in the iTunes Store. More confounding were the glowing reviews he found alongside them. Lacking a resource where he — a physician-to-be — could turn for credible information about clinical, medical and general health apps, he decided to start his own.
In just three years, iMedicalApps has become the go-to source for the HCP crowd — doctors, nurses and techs — for thorough, noncommercial reviews of hundreds of medical apps. The criteria for which apps to review are pretty straightforward: Is it medical? Is it mobile? Does it provide some level of real functionality? The site is platform agnostic so you’ll find assessments for iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, Android and Windows. It has an easy-to-use interface so you can search by medical specialty or app type, peruse most viewed posts or enter a discussion on the iMedicalApps forum. There is a sitewide policy that prohibits advertising or sponsorship dollars from app developers. Husain explained, “We’ve made some decisions that might not make sense from a business standpoint, but we hold apps to certain standards and do things in a certain way.”
Husain credits much of the site’s success to his team of excellent editors and writers, many of whom are doctors. This includes Managing Editor Satish Misra, a first-year resident in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins University, and Senior & mHealth Editor Felasfa Wodajo, an accomplished bone and soft tissue tumor surgeon (Orthopedic Oncologist) in the D.C. metro area. “I’m proud that this is a physician-run publication. Before there were no physicians reporting on what is interesting and useful. It is empowering to do it ourselves and get our voice out there,” said Husain.
In addition to physician-centric apps, Husain is bullish on mobile’s possibilities to enhance the patient-physician relationship. “Physicians love apps they can use with patients,” he explained. “Anytime you empower patients, you make a physician’s life more rewarding.”
An example is drawMD, an iPad application that allows doctors to illustrate the procedures they’ll be performing for their patients. During an orthopedics rotation, Husain showed drawMD to a group of surgeons and patients; they were in awe. One orthopedist remarked, “I no longer have to use my hands to mimic bones. I can draw a picture of the procedure and my patients watch that. It helps us explain things in a way patients can understand.”
Husain’s biggest pet peeve: developers who ignore the iPad. “The biggest mistake companies make is that they don’t create an iPad app,” said Husain. “If I’m a company and want to get doctors’ eyes, I would focus on the iPad.” In fact shortly after Steve Jobs’ death, Husain wrote a blog post on the reasons doctors would miss the Apple founder. “Doctors love their Apple products. Just walk into any hospital ward, and see the types of mobile devices we are using. At weekly Grand Rounds conferences, you see plenty of iPads in use,” said Husain.
He is equally surprised that the pharma industry has not jumped on the mobile bandwagon in a big way, particularly as it relates to patient education. Mobile allows rich, interactive and novel types of communication not possible with pamphlets or paper-based materials.
In the future Husain hopes to go beyond mobile and transform the site into a more complete technology review resource for the health care profession. But how does a first-year resident with a demanding schedule make time to do all of this? “If you’re passionate about something, you find a way to make it work. I’ll keep doing it until it stops being fun,” said Husain.
Follow Iltifat Husain on Twitter at @IltifatMD