Study: Medical calculating apps accurate, reliable

Most smartphone-based medical calculation apps--those that calculate the severity or likelihood of disease-based clinical scoring systems--provide accurate and reliable results that "can confidently be used in clinical settings," according to a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Nevertheless, despite the few errors found, greater scrutiny is warranted to ensure full accuracy, the article concludes.

Though medical calculating apps that determine the severity of liver disease, the likelihood of having a pulmonary embolism and risk stratification in acute coronary syndrome are popular, the accuracy of these apps has not been assessed, the article's authors note. 

To address this problem, researchers surveyed Google Play, BlackBerry World and the iTunes App Store to find medical calculation apps for smartphones. They tested 14 apps and 13 functions for each app if that function was available. In all, the authors conducted 10 cases for each function for a total of 1,240 tests. Most functions tested on the apps were accurate in their results with an overall accuracy of 98.6 percent. Six of 14 apps had 100 percent accuracy. 

"The results suggest that most medical calculating apps provide accurate and reliable results," find the authors. "The free apps that were 100 percent accurate and contained the most functions desired by internists were CliniCalc, Calculate by QxMD and Medscape."

Last year, published results of a survey of nearly 1,400 physicians by AmericanEHR Partners revealed that the top five smartphone apps used in medical practice were Epocrates, Medscape, MedCalc, Skyscape, and Doximity. In 2011, WebMD launched a version of its Medscape Mobile product for Android phones in addition to an existing iPhone version. 

Still, researchers emphasize the need for verifying medical apps before use in patient care. Though the smartphone apps evaluated for the article were quite accurate, the authors did discover errors in the smartphone calculations that were clinically significant.

When using medical calculating apps, the answers will likely be accurate, say the authors. However, the authors recommend that a system be put in place to verify smartphone apps that perform medical calculations to ensure they function properly, such as having a third party verify the accuracy of smartphone calculations.

To learn more:
- read the JMIR article