Epocrates is one of the oldest medical apps, dating back to the days when Palm PDAs reigned. Also, it is probably one of the medical apps that healthcare providers first install on their mobile phones and tablets. It was - and it still is – an essential drug reference app, with millions of downloads on both Android and iOS stores.
But, is it still the best? It depends on whom you ask. Some users will argue in its favor, while the others will disagree and choose other solutions, such as UpToDate, Medscape or Drugs.com Medication guide app we reviewed here on SteadyHealth.
The truth is that over the years, Epocrates app stirred up many debates and controversies, survived grim prognoses about its relevance and existence, and remained alive on millions of mobile devices.
The purpose of this review isn't to keep arguing in the app's favor or against it, yet to review its features thoroughly and decide if it's applicable for a daily use in clinics by healthcare providers and students.
There are two versions of Epocrates app, Free and Epocrates Plus that offers additional premium content and requires an annual subscription at the price of $174.99.
After you download the app, it will require you to create an account, with your name, state, email, password and credentials, before you can start using it. The app will also download the content after you finish registration. But, don't worry, this isn't paid content, yet free, which is essential for the app. Just keep in mind to use Wi-Fi when downloading it, to avoid any costs.
Upon starting the app, you'll be greeted with a screen offering you to take picture quiz poll, which features a woman with rough, red umbilical lesion, or to check 2016 update of CDC/ACIP Adult Immunization Schedule, or to read welcome notes from Epocrates and DocAlert messages.
To proceed to the app's main screen, tap on letter 'e' located top right. You'll be taken to the screen featuring some of the app's essential features, such as Drugs, Interactions Check, Pill ID, Guidelines, etc. You'll notice that some features listed here have a lock pad icon, which means they are only available if you purchase a subscription.
Navigation is pretty simple; you just need to swipe left, which will take you to more general options, such as Settings, Updates, Feedback, Help, or right to access other medical features, such as calculators, DDx, labs, tables, etc. If you use a free version of the app, you'll notice that a lot of these features are locked. Nevertheless, the free version also offers a significant amount of information in the available features.
The hallmark of the Epocrates app is of course, information about various medications. Tapping on Drugs section will take you to the alphabetical list of drug classes, from allergy and cold to rheumatologic. Tapping on individual class, for example Cardiovascular, open another list of categories within that class. For cardiovascular that means anticoagulants, beta blockers, diuretics, vasodilators, etc. Tapping on any of these opens the list of drugs that belong to that category.
I've chosen beta blocker bisoprolol, which provided me with an exhaustive information about dosing (pediatric dosing is not available for all medications), contraindications, interactions with other drugs, cautions regarding pregnancy/lactation, pricing, etc. Here you can also check pill pictures, which show you how certain drugs made by different manufacturers look like.
Each of these categories can be expanded and condensed on tap, with many of them also having expandable subcategories with additional information. The instructions provided within the Drugs section are very clear and easy-to-follow, thanks to the simple interface.
Interaction Check is even simpler, providing only a Search option, which allows users to add drugs and check their interaction. While this is really convenient as a quick interaction check for experienced providers, those less experienced or medical students would benefit more if there's a list of most common drug interactions, or if they get a list of all drugs that interact with the medication they added through the search.
Pill ID lets users identify pills by describing their shape, color, score, coating, clarity or imprint, and get the names of pills (with pictures) that match any of the criteria. This is very useful and accurate feature, although it could be improved by using phone camera to take the picture of the pill and then to identify them, in a similar way the CareZone app we reviewed this week does.
But these are just wishes that doesn't spoil the overall impression about the app design and interface. It's minimalistic and beautiful, easy to navigate with fast response, except for few parts that took some time to load, for example the Guidelines.
This section can be accessed from the main screen, providing evidence-based patient-oriented guidelines from Epocrates, Mayo Clinic, NIH/NHLBI, CDC, and other sources, which are listed by specialty or those recently updated. Despite the slower loads (they may be due to connection), this section is where Epocrates app excels, because these guidelines provide exhaustive information, as well as giving DDx suggestions based on basic symptom check.
Providers can also install athenaText, which provides free, secure text messaging for healthcare professionals.
Other options available in the free version of Epocrates app include using various medical calculators for different categories, from ANC to Winter's formula, using medical tables or to add formularies for each State.
Paid version, i.e. Epocrates Plus includes broader information about diseases, alternative medications, clinical practice guidelines, lab guides, and other clinical tools and content. While it probably adds an impressive amount of content, turning Epocrates into more than just a drug reference app, we're not sure about the price. There are medical apps on the market that incorporate drug info, calculators, clinical guidelines, and other medical information for a less, or even for free.
This, however, shouldn't discourage you to subscribe to Epocrates Plus and get a lot more useful content. Because what Epocrates offers in its free version is impressive, proving that this app is still one of the best medical apps available for both Android and iOS.
Benefit: Epocrates app remains as a must -have medical reference guide for all healthcare providers and medical students, either free or with paid subscription