Who’s paying for my “free” medical app?

Todd Vandenbark

Why 'free' isn't really free.Developing a mobile application (“app” for short) for any use requires time, programming skills, and, if you want to sell your app, a potential audience. Creating medical mobile apps also requires finding content that is scientifically supported and evidence based, which means a developer has to pay for expert medical searching and advice. So where does the money come from to fund quality apps like Medscape and Epocrates come from?

Satish Misra, MD, of the iMedicalApps blog has a two-part series of posts examining this issue, and asking for opinions from readers. The first posting points out:

In the past ten years, there has been a growing movement to restrict marketing of drugs to physicians by pharmaceutical companies. As a result of programs like the PharmFree project, traditional marketing avenues like free samples, sponsored dinners, and so on have become far more limited. And so naturally, pharmaceutical companies have looked to new avenues through which to reach physicians.

Using Epocrates as an example, Misra evenhandedly explains how free medical apps allow pharmaceutical companies to support physicians in their work while doing market research and sales at the same time. In his second article, Misra briefly examines Skyscape and several of its free apps that allow “life science companies…to reach thousands of HCPs in a new venue and format.”

As a library working with students in the healthcare professions (medicine, nursing, pharmacy, etc.), one of our goals is to help them develop information literacy skills: the ability to critically evaluate information provided via the Web and other electronic formats. When presented with information, it is important to apply a certain set of evaluative principles, as represented by the term “the C.R.A.A.P. Test:”

  • Currency: timeliness of the information
  • Relevance: importance of the information for your needs.
  • Authority: source of the information
  • Accuracy: reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.
  • Purpose: the reason this information exists

Such an evaluation system should be applied to “free” medical apps as well.

The Eccles Health Sciences Library has a list of free and fee medical apps for all of the major mobile platforms. Do you have a favorite application? Tell us about it!