For some busy oncology fellows, smartphone apps may only seem useful for getting directions or looking up a random topic on Google. However, quite a few mobile apps now are available to aid them in their daily work.

Handheld technology can help improve physicians’ workflow and possibly patient care. A systematic review of 13 studies suggested that hospital-based physicians who use handheld technology may have faster response times, fewer medication errors, and better data accessibility and management.1 These compact, lightweight, portable computers have caught many physicians’ fancy. In the United States, 75% of physicians currently own an iPhone, iPad, or iPod; 30% own an iPad and another 28% plan to buy one by the end of the year.2

“Most oncologists and oncology fellows have good access to drug references, literature searching, and clinical calculators through their laptop or desktop, using the enterprise software associated with the practice. However, having a useful app when questions come up on call, after hours, or when seeing patients in outreach environments is valuable for most oncologists,” said Michael Fisch, MD, MPH, chair, Department of General Oncology, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Dr. Fisch suggested that useful apps for oncology fellows include a good drug reference and a suite of calculators, such as those for body surface area, body mass index, glomerular filtration rate, fractional excretion of sodium, and the Child-Pugh score for liver disease.

Below are several app summaries based on reviews by, a physician-run Web site that provides commentary on mobile medical technology. Unless otherwise stated, all apps are free and are available for the iPhone, iPad, and Android operating systems.

In the drug reference category, Medscape is the go-to app, according to Amit Patel, MD, staff writer for and a first-year internal medicine resident at Washington University’s Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. The app is constantly updated and references more than 7,000 medications, providing details on dosing, prices, and drug–drug interactions (30 drug entries can be simultaneously processed).3,4

Epocrates Rx, an old favorite, continues to be a solid choice among the available drug reference apps. Although Medscape may provide information that is more complete for physicians, especially when pertaining to drug interactions, Epocrates Rx offers a unique pill identifier that can name medications based on descriptions and pill images, according to Dr. Patel.5 Micromedex is another highly regarded drug reference app.3,5 Although it lacks a powerful drug interaction checker, it offers a strong search function and streamlined information on mechanisms of action, dosing, and side effects, said Dr. Patel.

Although Epocrates Rx comes with a medical calculator (MedMath), it is not as comprehensive as other stand-alone calculator apps, noted Dr. Patel. Calculate by QxMD,3,6 for example, boasts a collection of more than 150 medical calculators. Although it does not provide written formulas or aids to help interpret results like MedMath and MedCalc do, it does offer relevant citations and PubMed links. If Calculate by QxMD’s is not adequate, Dr. Patel and his colleagues suggest trying MedCalc, available for 99 cents.6

Another useful app is PubMed Mobile, which brings the quintessential medical literature search tool to your mobile device.3 It offers basic searches but does not support every search parameter available on the desktop version, such as date published, said Dr. Patel. The version of the app is available at

For language translation, physicians should consider MediBabble, Dr. Patel said. Currently available for only the iPhone and iPad, the app offers 2,000 physician-approved queries and directives that English-speaking physicians can use to communicate with patients who speak Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Russian, or Haitian Creole.3

For oncology fellows who do find mobile apps useful or want to try them out in daily practice, Dr. Fisch advises against accessing apps in the presence of patients. “The use of this type of resource may cause a crisis of confidence in some patients who might view this sort of reference utilization as less than fully rigorous,” he said.


  1. Prgomet M, Georgiou A, Westbrook JI. The impact of mobile handheld technology on hospital physicians’ work practices and patient care: a systematic review. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2009;16(6):792-801.
  2. Seventy-five percent of US physicians own some form of Apple device according to new Manhattan Research study. Accessed June 7, 2011.
  3. Patel A. Top 10 iPhone medical apps for internal medicine physicians and residents. Accessed June 7, 2011.
  4. Patel A. The number one downloaded medical app for the iPhone—Medscape [App Review]. Accessed June 7, 2011.
  5. Patel A. Analysis of Free Drug Medical Reference Apps: Epocrates, Lexi-Comp, Medscape, Micromedex, Pepid, Skyscape. Accessed June 7, 2011.
  6. Patel A. The best free medical calculator apps for the iPhone. Accessed June 7, 2011.

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