Which medical education apps are worth a try?
As a medical student starting clinical attachments, I could barely remember which end of a stethoscope went in my ears, let alone the seemingly infinite causes of atrial fibrillation. Consequently, I spent more time in the library than on the ward, wasting valuable time that could have been spent seeing patients. The best and most convenient tool that I used was my smartphone, within which I could carry all sorts of handy things including most textbooks.
Using a smartphone on the ward is a tricky business. Some nurses will think you are updating your Facebook page every time you get your phone out, while some consultants claim they would never have needed a smartphone as a medical student because they’d apparently written five textbooks by their second year. A smartphone could change your working week, however, and these apps are all totally free.
It’s Monday morning and a new crop of patients have arrived over the weekend who cannot wait to chat to you. As a new student on clinical rotations, my main problem was that I had no idea what questions to ask for a given condition to get the most out of a history. Almostadoctor is a neat guide to common conditions you’ll encounter during medical and surgical rotations. It allows you to become informed quickly enough to avoid talking about Mrs Williams’s cats again. The app is more concise than most textbooks, and articles can be read in five minutes. Also included is a section on pathogenesis for the grilling the consultant will give you after you present the case. Problem? Limited scope of conditions, but this is set to increase with updates. Available on: iPhone, iPad, coming to Android in 2014
As a medical student, unless you’re super keen, there will be awkward times when you’re waiting for something to happen but feel guilty for doing nothing. You could use Prognosis and sister apps Cardiology and Diabetes, which provide a way to pass the time while swotting up. Each “case” gives history and examination findings, leaving you to decide investigations and treatments before scoring you. The app then explains the thought process needed and gives some information about the condition. Problem? The conditions on the app can be obscure with long, wordy explanations; however, it gives a good grounding and is fabulous for feeling like you’re revising. Available on: iPhone, iPad, Android
Microguide and Student Formulary
There are hundreds of antibiotics and some have odd names, which makes learning them tricky. Microguide is being phased in at some trusts around the UK and allows them to present their antibiotic policy in a pretty and accessible way organised by organ system. This becomes a useful way to learn pharmacology when paired with Student Formulary, an app that gives one page summaries of 120 common drugs, leaving you with a good idea of how the drugs work, something that the BNF falls down on for trainees. Problem? Microguide is only available at certain trusts, meaning information might not be accurate for your area. Available on: Microguide: iPhone, iPad, Android; Student Formulary: iPhone, iPad
So, a week into your placement and the fear is starting to subside. How will you remember all this information you’re learning? This simple app allows you to make simple two sided flashcards from your phone, which removes the risk that you might lose them or use them as a drinks coaster. You can shuffle them and test yourself when you come to revise. Problem? The app takes up a lot of memory and runs slowly on older smartphones. Available on: iPhone, iPad, Android
QxMD Read and NICE Guidelines
At some point during a clinical attachment you are probably going to get asked about or want to know about the evidence behind the management plans for the patients you see. These two apps work well together. NICE Guidelines allows you to scan over the guidance for treating common conditions and get a better understanding of what treatment should be given. Alternatively, QxMD Read gives you an understanding of why a treatment is given by running literature searches from your smartphone with full abstracts and the option to download pdfs or store articles for later. Institutional log in for the UK is not available yet, but is coming in soon. Problems: NICE Guidelines is wordy, but great if you have time. QxMD requires patience to set up and needs an internet connection. Another gold website is NHS Evidence, which allows quick searches of the best available evidence and has a mobile site. Available on: QxMD Read: iPhone, iPad, Android; NICE Guidelines: iPhone, iPad, Android
Apps might change the way medical students learn, with almost all medical knowledge at your fingertips by the bedside. These apps are a few of thousands of free ones, and even better, some medical schools such as University College London and Leeds are starting to trial ways of giving out textbooks on smartphones. Welsh Foundation Doctors are trialling iDoc, a searchable version of four Oxford handbooks with the British National Formulary (BNF) to help with the transition from medical student to F1 (Box 2). Overall, all of this app innovation shows us that there has never been a better time to learn how to be a doctor.
Box 1: Keen undergrad: who to follow on twitter?
- Ben Goldacre @bengoldacre
- Doc2doc @doc2doc
- Trisha Greenhalgh @trishgreenhalgh
- Cochrane Collaboration @cochranecollab
- BMJ @bmj_latest
- The Conversation UK @conversationUK
- Nick Hopkinson @COPDdoc
- Twitter journal club @twitjournalclub
- David the Paediatrician @tweediatrics
Box 2: iDoc Cardiff
iDoc is an institutional system for distributing textbooks to smartphones and tablets. Books are stored on the hard drive of the device and can be accessed far quicker than either paper copies or dubious websites. In Wales this means that all foundation doctors can access not only the BNF and BNF for Children, but the Oxford handbooks many trainees have been using for years. The system has been under evaluation for more than a year with 374 foundation year 1 and year 2 doctors, and overall the results have been positive. Doctors describe incidents where having information in their pocket made them more prepared for reporting to seniors, more confident about prescribing, and helped with the transition into their foundation year 1 from medical school. The study continues.
Correspondence to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Competing interests: I am a member of the iDoc Cardiff evaluation group, allowing me free access to iDoc software.
Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
Cite this as: Student BMJ 2014;22:g2044