Traditional textbooks, charts and plastic models were used for years as the essential tools for teaching human anatomy and physiology to students.
While some of these traditional tools are still being used in medical schools, particularly medical atlas and cadavers, the advent of technology introduced new ways of learning anatomy, mostly in the form of educational mobile apps.
However, choosing the right anatomy app for the iPhone or Android is not easy. Users have so many options that it is difficult to make a choice. There is a huge range of anatomy apps available, ranging from flashcards and reference textbooks, to 3D interactive maps and models, and more.
Most users prefer interactivity and ability of the up-close look. This is why anatomy apps with interactive 3D maps and models are more popular.
The app we review today is Visual Anatomy Lite (or Free for Android), an interactive education and reference tool that uses high-resolution 3D illustrations of the human body, along with the quiz feature for testing our anatomy knowledge.
The app is free to download and use, although there is also a paid version of the same app (without Lite or Free in the title) that can be purchased for $2.99. The difference between free and paid version of this app is in the number of images and feature points that each of them features.
For example, the Lite version contains 130 images and more than 350 feature points which can be interactively selected, while the paid version contains more than 500 high-resolution images (plus 141 single muscle images) and more than 850 feature points.
The paid version of Visual Anatomy app also includes audio, muscle action videos, more quizzes, and full Gray's anatomy. However, the free version also offers a quite bit of useful anatomy resources that users can try before they decide to purchase the full version
The Visual Anatomy Lite app launches without splash screen or logo and opens immediately with a simple interface showing 23 thumbnail images on two screens that feature various parts of the human anatomy and other app features. As you may see, the design is perhaps too simple, but I didn't want to judge it yet, at least until I check 3D illustrations and interactivity.
The app is easy to use and navigate. Basically, just tap on the thumbnail of the body part you want to study, and a detailed anatomy illustration will appear, with feature points marked with pushpins. These feature points show specific parts of the body that make up a region.
Each illustration has three icons at the bottom of the screen, including Info, 3D and Rotating arrow, which enables the navigation within the illustration.
If you tap on particular body part/feature point, for example on liver in Organ 3D section, it will become green. You can then tap on Info button to get more information about the organ you've chosen, usually presented with short description and then in more detailed information on how it works below. In similar way, you can tap on any feature point and get relevant information.
Using their fingers, users can zoom in for a closer look or rotate the image if the 3D view is enabled (by tapping on relevant icon). If 3D is disabled, you can rotate image by tapping on Rotating arrow icon, but it doesn't work so smooth. Also, when 3D view is enabled, feature points are not shown on the illustration and you can't get information.
As you'd probably notice, not all pages include three-dimensional interactive illustration that users can rotate and view from multiple angles by dragging it with a finger. Perhaps this is available in paid version.
Rest of the illustrations have only two buttons (Info and Rotation), while some also include Question mark icon that serves no purpose other than to confuse the users.
If you tap on this icon and then on the feature point, a little question mark will appear on the illustration and stay there until you tap on Question mark icon again, revealing the name of the feature point. I think this is pointless, or at least not a well-thought-out feature. It is probably intended to help users test their knowledge, but it isn't implemented so well.
If you want to test your anatomy knowledge, Visual Anatomy Lite app also includes quiz with 22 questions, each offering four possible answers. The quiz is self-paced and automatically scored, and the users can repeat it as many times as they like.
Another great feature in the app is a collection of illustrations from 6 chapters of the "Gray's Anatomy" textbook that is used as a reference guide in the medical field for more than 100 years. Illustrations contain description and they can be zoomed in for a closer look, although some texts on illustrations become hard to read.
The app is available in four languages. Beside English, the app also includes French, Spanish and German languages that users can switch to from the home screen.
What the app is missing is the search feature that would enable users to simply type in the name of a body part they want to look up. Also, the app is lacking anatomy reference links so it's not sure which resources have been used for the information.
Overall, the Visual Anatomy Lite is useful as an occasional reminder and reference tool, but its simplicity and lack of some important features place it a little bit below other anatomy apps, such as Anatomy Learning 3D Atlas app or BioDigital Human app that both got favorable reviews on SteadyHealth.
That doesn't mean Visual Anatomy Lite app is bad. Its primary value is educational, and that's why it may be perfect as a quick reference for medical students. Physicians and other medical professionals may find it useful as well, but also too simple, unless they purchase the full version to unlock additional illustrations and features.
Benefit: Medical students may find it useful as a quick educational reference