The iPhone as a Physician Resource

Mar 26, 2008

Physicians might soon have an excuse to swap their BlackBerries for fancy newish Apple iPhones. The super-secretive computer firm announced earlier this month that it would release development kits allowing third-party applications to be created for the phone.

Apple's unusual move could be a boon for physicians who are increasingly trading in pen and paper for more high-tech handheld devices. At last they will have the opportunity to use mobile software that goes beyond the underwhelming processing power of personal digital assistants (PDAs) and BlackBerry-style devices.

Epocrates, one of the best-known of the medical and drug software developers, was on hand to present its application at Apple's recent press conference premiering its software development kit (SDK). The Epocrates program features drug dosing information, retail pricing updates, and up-to-the-minute adverse reaction reporting.

High-Res Graphics
In addition, Epocrates has taken advantage of the high-resolution graphics on the iPhone by building a drug identifier feature into its program. Physicians can look up a pill by color and description and match it to a sample a patient brings in.

"It's getting harder for sales reps to meet with doctors, and we provide a tool to establish a relationship with a physician and deliver messaging," Kirk Loevner, chairman and CEO of Epocrates, told Pharm Exec on Monday. Programs such as Doc Alerts transmit key pharma studies or journal articles straight to a physician's device. With the iPhone, pharma companies can also create richer mobile continuing-ed programs, including video and graphics branded with pharma messaging.

A Telephone as Platform
Until a few weeks ago, Apple had all software development for the phone under lockdown. This meant that software makers creating programs for iPhone integration were forced to run them over the Internet through the phone's Web browser.

"We are seeing an increasing interest in the iPhone as a platform for physicians and healthcare professionals," said Loevner. "In a survey of our users, the iPhone was the number one device that they were looking at purchasing over the next 12 months."

Biotech giant Genentech also got a callout at the SDK event. According to Apple, Genentech has thousands of iPhones deployed in its company.

"Genentech's pilot with iPhone has shown its potential to be the most useful business mobility tool we've ever used," stated Todd Pierce, vice president at Genentech. "We now have 3,000 planned for deployment based on how easy and simple it was to integrate iPhone with our corporate e-mail system."

Neither Genentech nor Apple would return calls querying how the pilot is working or what other uses they have for the phone.

Epocrates expects its physician suite of software to ship in 2008.