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iPhone Medicine Watch: Epocrates on the iPhone

"I'd like to get an iPhone, but..."

In the hospital, when I use my iPhone, I hear this all the time. What are the two biggest reasons doctors give for not switching to the iPhone? 1) They don't want to change their carrier to AT&T and 2) The iPhone can't run Epocrates or other third party software.

Most physicians have used Epocrates, which is a popular drug reference database accessible through PDAs and the internet. Back when I owned a Treo 650, I used Epocrates all the time. When I switched to the iPhone, I missed having immediate access to the Epocrates database -- though the inconvenience of having to access Epocrates through the internet was minor.

This month, the biggest complaint about the iPhone -- that it can't run third party software -- has been answered with the release of the iPhone SDK (software development kit). And to the surprise of many physicians, Epocrates was one of the first products to be showcased.


Health care professionals who are iPhone users -- or plan to purchase one -- are waiting until June, when the application store for third party iPhone software will go live. Realistically, however, our enthusiasm should be tempered by the understanding that third party software like Epocrates has already been available for the Treo and for Windows Mobile. Seen this way, iPhone users are only getting now what they should have received all along.

On the other hand, the iPhone is a unique platform. The part of the Epocrates video (shown above) that received the most enthusiastic response was the demonstration of the pill finder, which takes advantage of the iPhone's interface to identify and display medications based on their shape and color. In a handheld device, this feature is truly novel. The potential for a flood of new medical applications which take full advantage of the iPhone's strengths are what's really exciting for physicians. Will that be enough to make the iPhone the doctor's PDA of choice? We'll see.

(Also posted on The Efficient MD.)
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About the Author


Dr. Schwimmer's blog explores the intersection of medicine, new technologies, and the Internet.