How to choose a good healthcare app

This article first appeared in the May 2013 edition of Pulse+IT Magazine.

There are tens of thousands of healthcare apps out there and they seem to proliferate by the day. The majority are aimed at consumers, but for healthcare professionals, medical apps can be a wonderful resource. How, though, do you sift through the less than useful apps to find those gems?

With thousands of medical apps to choose from for your mobile, it’s very easy to get lost browsing the app stores. But really, we have to choose, because apps offer an easy way to improve healthcare and health education. If we don’t use them, we’re missing out on an exciting new movement in medicine.

So what makes a good healthcare app? I have asked myself this many times as I developed my own apps and reviewed many more. Deciding whether an app is good or not is nearly impossible to do before you buy it, but reading app reviews and word of mouth from colleagues can be a pretty reliable way of helping you pick. Generally when I look at an app or develop one, I consider a few main areas that make apps great: content, design, price, and added value.

To state the obvious, without the content being useful to you, the app is worthless. The quality of the content is important, so looking at who the authors/developers are will give you an idea of their clinical expertise. Although the concept of healthcare apps receiving a special seal of approval is starting to emerge, most apps don’t have this. As with any time you browse for healthcare information on the internet, you need to consider the reliability of the source.

It’s also important to have a think about whether you will actually use the app – the content might seem fun, but will that just be as a one-off and then languish in a folder on your mobile for all eternity? If you’re paying for an app you should find it useful regularly.

And do you have the content in another app already? As my list of medical apps on my phone has grown, I have started to realise that many apps are overlapping in content. I have at least six apps that calculate fluid requirements in children. In actual fact, there’s only one that I use regularly, so rationalising your apps is a good idea to avoid phone overload.

To read the full story, click here for the May 2013 issue of Pulse+IT Magazine.

Author Details

Dr Tessa Davis BSc(Hons), MBChB, MA, MRCPCH This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tessa Davis is a paediatric emergency trainee at Sydney Children's Hospital. She has an interest in health innovation, patient safety and IT. Tessa created GuidelinesForMe, an online, crowd-sourced database of clinical guidelines; learnmed, a not-for-profit social enterprise; and iClinicalApps, a mobile app development company. She also regularly reviews apps for medical blog Life in the Fast Lane.

Posted in Australian eHealth


0 # AJ Jack 2013-06-13 11:34
Apple have just released a video called "Making a difference - One app at a time" which has five case studies of mostly medical related apps.
It is actually quite touching in parts and well worth a look.
You can find it at
0 # Terry Hannan 2013-06-13 16:09
A cautionary note.

There is very little doubt that these information/kno wledge resource systems offer great potential in facilitating clinicians and patient decision making a significant degree of caution needs to enlisted regarding these technologies.

Recent reviews in the imedicalapps web site:

The reviewers on this site point out two important features related to their use.

1. One is the validity of the data and knowledge provided by them. As the web site review noted. “While beneficial in demonstrating the number of apps available, the results are leading to some troubling revelations about the information available for medical purposes. Namely, there is a shortage of apps that are scientifically backed or demonstrate some form of development with clinicians.”

2. The second point is one of further information overload and the dissociation of data and information from other data resources within the patient care system. [See Mosa AS, Yoo I, Sheets L. A systematic review of healthcare applications for smartphones. BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2012;12:67.]

3. A final point to be made is there is some evidence that there is a significant drop off in use of Medical Apps over time suggesting that their use follows the Gartner Hype Cycle related to the introduction of new technologies.
0 # Dr No 2013-06-13 16:16
I definitely believe TGA approval should be mandatory for any app used in real life clinical situations by Practitioners.

Many of these apps are a minefield of potential misinformation.
0 # juanita 2013-06-14 10:10
I agree with the author and Dr No. TGA approval is required to ensure certainty and trust in the devices. I think is is the reason why professional organisations suggest caution when physicians and others use the apps. No-one once to be stuck in a medico-legal situation involving the apps ... it is only time before this happens ...

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