An iPhone or Blackberry for doctors and medical students?

by Tom Tharp

A recent Manhattan Research study found that twice as many physicians are using Apple’s iPhone this year than last, but that BlackBerry is still the most popular smartphone among physicians. The same study found the percentage of physicians in the U.S. using smartphones increased 20 percent from 2008 to 2009.

An iPhone or Blackberry for doctors and medical students?

With more and more physicians looking to the Internet for clinical work and communicating with colleagues, the increase in smartphone usage is not surprising. And it seems that more and physicians, pharmacists and IT professionals I see in hospitals are carrying iPhones. So, why are they picking iPhones over Blackberrys?

A quick Google search found Blackberry lagging behind the iPhone tech wave. A recent Google search for “iPhone” and “physicians” yielded over three times the number of results than “Blackberry” and “physician.”

Is it simply the tech hype, or are iPhones proving to be better devices for physicians?

That’s a question open to speculation. But with the growing volume of apps available for the iPhone, and especially clinically related apps, iPhones seem to be garnering the most attention. And, at present, it’s winning the popularity contest.

More often, I see articles about physicians and nurses identifying a problem and developing an iPhone app to solve it. Blackberry devices have been present in hospital environments for years, but their lack of a more approachable development platform means that the iPhone will get all the glory in the press.

Furthermore, a recent study by Epocrates found that 45 percent of med students are using iPhones, where only 12 percent are using Blackberrys. That same study found that med students are four times more likely to consult a mobile reference for a clinical question than ask their own attending physician.

So while Blackberry is the most popular Smartphone today, studies are forecasting that the tables will soon be turning. Is it only hype?

Tom Tharp is the Director of Product Marketing at PerfectServe.

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  • Dr Portnay

    As a busy Interventional Cardiologist, what I really need is the most powerful communications tool available. This is hands down, a Blackberry.

    The iPhone is cool but it does not suit my needs of being the ultimate tool for communications.

    As I progressed from medical, through internship, residency, and fellowship, I found my need for online/mobile resources dramatically decrease. I’m not surprised that more and more Medical Student choose an iPhone.

    I’ve written about my uses of my BlackBerry in the following blog post:

  • sajabla

    this is silly. more physicians are choosing iphone for the same reason more consumers in general are choosing iphone. it would be more relevant if more physicians were going against the consumer trend.

  • Jeff Brandt

    I would like to explain the differences in these phones and their use for Medical Informatics.

    It’s success is based on their integration with Microsoft Exchange. IT department have to support exchange so they support Blackberry. Other than that Blackberry has little to offer in the future of Medical Applications. My predictions is that Blackberry will be deprecated over time along with Exchange.

    Cool way cool, it is the new Breitling watches, lots of gadgets, but for real medical application it’s Operating System (OS) is very limiting. The OS is single threaded, that is, It can do only one job at a time. If you are looking at a chart and you get a call the chart app will shut down. Apple is also a “walled garden”, a closed system. You can not even print or backup data from an App. The other issue is that there is no keyboard. Users that are moving from Blackberry see this a major block to acceptance. iPhone is also only available on one carrier, AT&T. For many users AT&T is not a acceptable choice.

    Apple has the power to change but it has not been their policy in the past. The enterprise is not their forte.

    Google Android:
    Android is not a Phone it is an OS. This year there will be 18 phones released by different manufactures to multiple carrier. These phones will have different features such as keyboard so the user has the choice of the phone and carrier that meets their needs. This is the dark horse that has the power to be the best OS available for Medical enterprise application. The Android OS is open, that is, you can change the OS to do what is needed to perform a task. The OS is multi-threaded, i.e., the OS can perform one task at a time and you can easily switch between apps.
    Today, this is the best choice for enterprise medical application. But, this to may change.

    Jeff Brandt for the iPhone for the Android

  • Nuclear Fire

    I disagree with Dr. P. The Blackberry is not hands down a better communication tool. Also, it does support exchange. Overall, I agree with sajabla. This is silly. Blackberry and Apple are merely tools that are rapidly improving. They’ll continue to improve and compete becoming better all the time…or they’ll stagnate and someone else will come up with something better. Ah, competition.

    I personally like my iPhone and have found not only the applications quite nice and useful but I’ve been amazed to have patients notice my iphone and then ask to email me pictures of rashes they took that have subsequently resolved. I also have found it useful to show patients pictures of visual symptoms like Raynaud’s or discoid lupus at the bedside and have them see if that’s what they’re trying to describe. The patients seem to appreciate the use of technology.

    I’m looking forward to the future are blackberry, apple and google compete an improve their products to our benefit.

  • keshav

    Android phones will take over both iPhones and blackberries soon :)

  • Bone MD

    While using gadgets like Iphones or blackberry tend to increase a physician or medical students productivity, I’m quite concerned with this “…med students are four times more likely to consult a mobile reference for a clinical question than ask their own attending physician.”
    With the trend going towards that extreme, the medical education program will one day find itself an “iphone/blackberry/android attending” teaching our young medical students. Will that be a better?

  • Dr Portnay

    People love their smart phones. People tend to get very attached to their phones. We live in a great time when their are 4 really good platform’s out there right now: BlackBerry, iPhone, Android and Palm WebOS.

    I think the iPhone is an amazing device – its just not for me. The following article sums up many of the reasons I like the BlackBerry experience more than the iPhone for my needs in my practice:

    Also for all of you out there using BlackBerry devices and want to try and adding medical apps – here are two decent articles (besides my blogpost above):

  • Jeff Brandt

    Bone MD, Interesting quote do you have a ref? You are referring to the new culture of “Google”. Many thing will change very fast. Wait till all of the HR records are digital, The the sky is the limit. Decision support will be on your phone. As I mention the Future is now. Is it better? not sure, but that is where we are going and we are not going to go back.

    Jeff Brandt

  • Glenda Valencia, M.D.

    I had my BB for 2 years and Honestly, I feel as though you can accomplish a good deal more with the iPhone.Just a smooth transition from Internet to Research straight to Documents and Presentations. (YAY to Documents To Go!) I’m carrying a wee bit computer in my pocket and it’s worth every penny.

  • David Deitsch, RN

    Just a little comment on study methodology: Your survey of Google entries is interesting and usefull, however, I am not sure that it is a valid indicator of physician preferences. Most articles about smartphones are written by “techies,” not the physicians that use these devices. So, we can only say that more is wrtten on the Internet about the BB. I also appreciate Jeff Brandt’s observation that only AT&T supports the iPhone, a confounder that will influence many physician’s (and other users) choice for reasons that have nothing to do with the strengths and limitations of the two systems.

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