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Smartphones hustle to maintain pace with rapid rate of change in oncology

Smartphones hustle to maintain pace with rapid rate of change in oncology

ABSTRACT: A flood of cancer-specific applications is answering the call of oncologists, for whom keeping pace with new clinical developments is a higher priority than for your average family practitioner.

Droids, iPhones, iPads, and BlackBerrys are shock troops on the front line of an electronics invasion. Their assimilation of everyday functions has made a frustrating universe simpler and more efficient, arguing for their broader and more sophisticated use in professional life. In medicine, they entered first in general practice then quickly spread to specialties. Oncology is fast becoming a place where you're likely to hear the expression, "There's an app for that."

"Oncology is one of the few fields in medicine where things are changing at a very rapid pace, with protocols and drug regimens and research actually changing day to day the way you treat your patients," said Tom Giannulli, MD, chief medical information officer for Epocrates. "In that group of physicians, keeping in touch is a much higher priority than for your average family practitioner with respect to researching new developments."


The NCCN recently launched a smartphone app to view its guidelines. The app, which is specific for the iPhone and Droid, is among the first free mobile applications available that are designed to assist in the selection of treatment for patients with cancer, according to the NCCN.

What's available now

More than 900,000 medical professionals regularly use Epocrates software on mobile devices including the iPhone, Palm and BlackBerry, and PC, according to the company. They have used this software to look up drug interactions, dosing, and formulary information more than 1.2 billion times, according to the firm, which launched 10 years ago.

A competing service launched in July 2009, Medscape Mobile, provides information along the same lines: disease symptoms and treatments and data about specific drugs, including drug interactions, medical news, and continuing medical education. With 370,000 users, it ranks at the top in Apple's apps store for medical applications; its recently launched Medscape for BlackBerry app also is highly ranked in the medical category in RIM's AppWorld.

"We look for what physicians want in terms of functionality at the point of care and on the go," said David Yett, director of product management at Medscape. "We spend a lot of time listening to physicians."

The two competing services share the same goal, which is to improve the quality of patient care. Mobile devices offer enormous potential to do so. A spare few minutes in a cab or between meetings are enough to check out the risk of an adverse drug interaction or drug coverage. Pill identifiers and pictures of pills are available in an instant, along with high-resolution disease images, ICD-9 and CPT codes, and a medical dictionary. DocAlerts from the FDA are pushed to mobile devices, along with breaking news items.

"With mobile devices, you can tap into information at any point during your day," Dr. Giannulli said.

The result can save time and lives. More than 40% of oncologists reported avoiding at least two errors per week with Epocrates products, according to a recent survey by Epocrates. Forty-seven percent reported saving 20 minutes or more per day by reaching into their pockets rather than going to their desks to look up information.


Being able to access NCCN guidelines at the point of care will be invaluable for clinicians who want to keep up with the latest treatment recommendations, and mobile devices are the way to do it, said Thomas D'Amico, MD, chair of the NCCN board of directors. "Mobile devices have quickly become a preferred vehicle for physicians to access clinical information due to their ease of use and inherent portability," added Dr. D'Amico, who is also director of clinical oncology at Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center in Durham, N.C.

According to a May 2010 report by Manhattan Research, 72% of U.S. physicians now use smartphones. This share is expected to grow to 81% by 2012.

"Professional uses of smartphones and online user-generated content are no longer early adopter activities of a tech-savvy few," said Meredith Ressi, vice president of research at Manhattan Research. "These types of activities are the norm for the majority of physicians today."


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