The Unwired Medic

Teaching EMS providers & other public safety pros about using mobile tech to improve their practice, patient care, continuing education, scene safety, general entertainment, & productivity.

ePocrates – The best app I’ve ever owned!

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I stumbled across ePocrates based on a recommendation from a hospital Pharmacist around 2003 and started using it on Palm and Windows PocketPC platforms.  Since then, nearly every pharmacist I’ve met (who doesn’t fear technology) has recommended it to me.  It has always been an incredible resource for EMS to allow us to look up the most widely available medications our patients are taking.  Slowly but surely, they added more and more content and tools.  They have stayed up to date on the platforms available so that regardless of the kind of device you use, you can have access to these invaluable tools.  Apps are available for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Palm, and Windows Mobile/Phone, and if that doesn’t apply to you, there is an online version accessible from your device’s web browser.

Since it is available even on a web browser, you can be sitting in front of your patient while looking up their medications and even check their medications for potential interactions.

Let me tell you, that after all the years I have used ePocrates, I have seen first-hand that they keep their medications databases very updated (compare this to a paper-based book or pocket-type guide that you have to buy every edition whenever they see fit to release a new edition).  Now, they have additional tools available that can perform drug calculations (including steroids, heparin, IV drips, opioid therapy and more), check drug interactions, bring you the latest in news for specific medical disciplines, help manage diabetes, and here’s probably the best tool… get free CME!  Old school PocketPC and Palm users still have some great tools for allergies, asthma, A-Fib, infection control, and more, that are now available for iPhone, and I’m sure the other platforms are coming along soon.

All of what I’ve mentioned is available for free, but if you need more tools and resources, you can purchase upgrade subscriptions.  I owned the Essentials edition upgrade once, but it really wasn’t necessary for me as a field medic.  All the extra features are better suited to occupational and non-emergency medicine medics, including those who staff oil rigs/platforms, mines, employee health clinics, ER/ICU’s, etc., and for physicians and mid-level practitioners like PA’s and Nurse Practitioners.  The premier package, called ePocrates Essentials Deluxe, is available for all mobile platforms except Android, but the two other premium packages, Essentials and RxPro, are available for Android too.  (Don’t worry, they have a feature comparison chart to help you decide –

Did I mention the Free CME?  It reminds me of the line in Shrek where Donkey says,

You know what else everbody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever meet a person and say, ‘Hey, lets go get some parfaits.’ They say, ‘Hey, no, I don’t like no parfaits.’

Well, just substitute “Free CME” for “parfaits”.  I never met anyone who didn’t like Free CME’s.  So in your abundant downtime on shift (yeah… right), you can whip out your phone and pull in a couple additional last-minute CME hours for recertification.  I have never cleared these hours through my state agencies or the NREMT, but they’ve never declined to accept them, especially since they are AMA accredited CME, and for nurses and PA’s.  You can look at many individual categories like cardiac, neuro, psych, and geriatrics.  You can access this through the web browser of any device or download the separate app for iPhone and iPodTouch.  The CME app is no longer showing available for Palm and PocketPC (where it was integrated into the primary app).

As far as installing ePocrates and getting set up, you go to your app store or marketplace and look for ePocrates.  Select it to download and install as you would any other app.  After it automatically installs, you will need to open the app and input your login info or choose to create a new account (personally, I recommend you just create a free account from their web page and just sign in on the app).  It will then require a substantial download to initialize the current clinical content database.  I’ve had this take over a half-hour on 3G on my Android cell phone, so you’ll want a faster connection if possible, like 4G or Wi-Fi.  I installed on a rooted B&N Nook Color (non-stock operating system upgraded to Android 2.3) using Wi-Fi and it took about 10 minutes to download and install the updates.

It’s easy to navigate, isn’t overly flashy or overly conservative, has an instant search feature (+1 for this upgrade), and you can set your choice of preferences near the bottom of the main screen (untis of measurement, login info, and more).  There’s also a neat “DocAlert” feature that shares with you the latest important changes in Rx, like new black box warnings, and new important studies on meds.  I read through the DocAlerts occasionally and find useful info from time to time.  I can’t say I’m thrilled that they include DocAlerts that sometimes appear to be nothing but an ad for a drug with the package insert, but really, you’re getting a ton of useful and authoratative info for free, so I can bear seeing those articles, plus you can skip opening that DocAlert, so you aren’t forced to look at ads.  This bolsters their credibility in my opinion, since I don’t feel like they’re selling exposure in a free app.

My biggest pet peeve is when I set the phone to not sync apps with my data connection, and the app ignores that setting.  In my opinion, no app is so important that it needs to update itself without ever checking in with the device’s operator.  This wastes battery life when the user isn’t even using the phone, and can cost money on limited data plans if you exceed the plan limit.  I feel if I never open the app on the phone, it shouldn’t take it upon itself to start up, use RAM (the device’s short-term memory) even if it is just in the background, and make connections.  Overall, my only gripe isn’t really a big deal for most of the current Android phones have great processors and memory, plus battery life keeps improving, and phone carriers are offering, almost exclusively, truly unlimited data on a device.  I know there is a setting on the app if you go to “Updates” to disable syncing, but it still would sync anyway.  Maybe that was a one-time problem for my Android phone, and I don’t recall this occuring on my Nook Color.  This iritated me enough that I uninstalled it from my phone.  But, after about 2 weeks, I find myself having withdrawals from my favorite drug reference, so I have reinstalled it anew and expect it will give me no troubles.  Even if it does continue to exhibit this minor misbehavior, I will simply suck it up and keep using the best app I have ever owned.

I would add this app to the main screen on your device (Android users, open your app list and press and hold on the ePocrates app, then drag it to the spot on the home screen you want to drop it at).  For PC’s, right click the desktop and select “New” then “Shortcut”, type, click “Next”, then name it ePocrates Online” and click “Finish”.  I’d also add it to my Favorites or Bookmarks area.  As far as I’m concerned, this app should be part of the standard repertoire of student references for every Paramedic Intern.

Just to clarify, the links in this article are just links.  This article contains only my opinions and observations and is in no way sponsored by ePocrates.

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  1. Pingback: What's on my iPhone? | The Unwired Medic

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