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TL v63n3: Consumer Health Mobile Apps
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Consumer Health Mobile Apps: Opening the Box


Michael Lindsay, MSIS, AHIP (
Serials/E-Resources Librarian
Preston Medical Library, UT Graduate School of Medicine


Martha Earl, MSLS, AHIP (
Assistant Director
Preston Medical Library, UT Graduate School of Medicine

Originally presented at the Tennessee Library Association Annual Conference (Chattanooga, TN) in April 2013.


The popularity and widespread use of mobile devices is a defining characteristic of the modern age.  These technologies are placing the wealth -- and poverty -- of quality electronically available information into a user’s hands virtually anywhere. A 2010 report presented by Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley Research (Meeker, 2010) projected that the number of users of mobile internet would exceed those of desktop internet by early 2014.  One of the major types of information searched is health information. The average patient now consults the Internet before discussing a diagnosis with a family member or friend and uses the Internet to self diagnose, to self treat, and to connect with other patients or family members with similar health concerns via discussion boards or social media (Pew, 2011). Another Pew Survey demonstrates the growth in mobile use across all demographics, with over 56% of all U.S. adults owning a smartphone, and 31% of all cell phone users reporting using their cellphone to look for health or medical information online (Fox, 2013). 

Smartphones are also being increasingly used by healthcare professionals, and, as indicated in A Systematic Review of Healthcare Applications for Smartphones (Mosa, 2012), one possibility driving this is the ability to use one device where previously a separate cell phone, pager, and personal digital assistant might have been required.  Physicians and nurses are constantly on the move in their daily work. As they interact with patients and family members, information available on the Internet is often a topic of discussion and can be a sharing point in improving patient care and health information literacy.

Mobile applications fall into the same category of potential usefulness. Libraries and librarians can contribute to guiding users to the best health information apps for both consumers and health professionals, and in some cases, the same apps will benefit both.   


Preston Medical Library, located on the campus of the University of Tennessee Medical Center, serves the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine, and additionally, health professionals and patients in Knoxville and the surrounding counties. In addition, Preston Medical Library has long provided consumer health information services to the people of Tennessee and has worked with public libraries to train the trainers. Health professionals at UT Medical Center may refer patients to the library. Consumers may call the library with their questions about medications, diagnoses, or conditions, and receive, via mail or email, a set of customized references.  In support of these services, the library provides a research guide, an online search request form, and a service allowing patients to request information directly from their hospital rooms. 

The library also engages in a number of outreach activities to local businesses, churches, civic organizations, and government agencies.  In some of these activities, the library works hand in hand with the hospital’s network development team, supplementing the hospital’s outreach activities by providing consumer health information sessions, and lately, a class on consumer health apps for smartphones and other mobile devices.

Asking the Questions

With state of the art technology as one of the library’s values, the library had been involved in promoting mobile apps to health professionals, focusing first on mobile access to library-subscribed databases.  However, the use of non-library supported professional level apps and mobile apps among consumers remained wide open frontiers for research.  Librarians wanted to know what health apps were being used.  Also, what should be the library’s role in identifying, acquiring, curating, and educating about mobile medical apps?     

The primary goal was to gather as much information as possible in a systematic way that could be shared with other libraries as a reproducible method.   Ideally, we would integrate the gathering of this data into our regular work flows and surveys.  Researchers sought to construct methods of data collection that would be simple to administer, easy to maintain, and allow librarians to see how preferences would change over time. 

Three major tools were utilized to gather information from those the library serves.  For Medical Residents, the Incoming Residents Survey, for UT Medical Center Nurses, class evaluations from the library’s presentation at nursing orientations, and for consumer health patrons, the library developed the Healthy Smartphone Pre-Survey.

Health Professionals

The library’s Incoming Residents Survey had been developed internally to gauge the information and service needs of residents, their use of the literature, and preferred information sources.  The library added questions related to use of mobile apps.  Residents were asked if they used mobile apps, what their favorites were, and what device and platform they used.  The surveys were collected during incoming resident orientation sessions.  Ninety-one percent of respondents indicated that they used mobile medical apps.  Of those, 81% were Apple, rather than Android, users. Eighty-two percent of respondents were iPhone users.  Of tablet users, more respondents used iPad rather than other tablets. Residents perceived that more and better apps became available from the iTunes App Store first.


Figure 1.  More new residents at UT Medical Center use Apple mobile devices than Android devices for medical mobile apps.


The library provides a “virtual library tour” as part of the orientation experience for new nurses and other incoming non-physician health professionals at UT Medical Center.  To gain feedback on these sessions, the library has used a standard survey form, consisting of a number of questions on a Likert scale.  The library chose to ask the new employees to use the comment section of the existing survey to list their favorite health-related mobile apps (see fig. 2). 

Favorite apps of new nurses in UTMC Hospital Orientation Classes: 2012-2013

Figure 2. New nurses at UT Medical Center prefer drug references and more general health sources such as Web MD. 

For health professionals, drug references, including Micromedex and ePocrates, were the first and second most used.  Incoming nurses and other non-physicians gave more general health sources such as WebMD the next highest ranking.  The fourth most mentioned app was MedScape.  Rounding out the top five most mentioned was iTriage.  This app allows users to input symptoms, mapping those symptoms against likely diagnoses. Other apps listed included: Pedi Safe, Speed Anatomy, Medical Terminology and Abbreviations, ECG Interpolation Tool, EKG App, and Baby Bump.   These apps are being used for education, reference, test preparation, to provide support for pregnancy, to enable safe dosing for babies and children, and to create mobile online communities between health care practitioners.  Several respondents mentioned drip rate timers for infusion nursing.  This caught our attention because it strongly suggests that nurses and other health professionals have begun viewing their smart phones as vital tools to help them perform critical tasks.  See the Appendix for a list of useful medical apps. 


For the final part of the library’s strategy to survey mobile device and app use, librarians surveyed attendees of the Healthy Smartphone class, an outreach activity targeted to local businesses and government agencies related to the library’s role in UT Medical Center’s speaker’s bureau.  A request for a class on finding consumer health mobile apps prompted librarians to develop the Healthy Smartphone class.

To date, this class has been offered to corporate headquarters staff for three area companies, to town hall employees of a small city in the Knoxville area, and has been presented to librarians at the Tennessee Library Association conference.  UT Medical Center’s network development office specifically sought out the library so that they could provide education as an additional service in building networks with partner organizations.  In addition to information and reviews on mobile apps, librarians provide organization.  The Healthy Smartphone class was divided into segments profiling mobile medical apps in the following categories: general, fitness/nutrition, food safety & recalls, calculators, chronic disease management, emergencies, disaster safety and public health, and other (non-health related).  National Library of Medicine resources such as MedlinePlus and DailyMed, as well as the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s BMI Calculator, were emphasized in the presentation.  The focus was on free, high quality resources.  In the category of other resources, utilities such as Dropbox, and directories of apps such as Quixey and the Mobile Apps Directory from were included. See the Appendix for a list of consumer health apps in these categories. 

Given that librarians were designing this class from scratch, a greater degree of liberty was felt in surveying attendants, and thus this was the most detailed survey. Most attendees of the classes were female, at 68.8%.  Fewer than 6% of survey respondents were below 30 years of age, with the balance evenly split between a cohort of 31-50 and over 50 years of age.  There was also a greater variability in the devices used, with more respondents mentioning Amazon’s Kindle and other e-readers and tablets (see fig. 3). 

Do you have a mobile device, and if so, what kind? (consumers)

Figure 3. While iPhones are still favored, health consumers use a wider variety of mobile devices than do health professionals.


How do these users find apps?  For the most part, respondents reported finding apps on websites that they frequented, or by word-of-mouth.  Users were also exposed to desired apps through co-workers, or found apps by searching directly on their devices in the Google Play market or the iTunes Store.  Survey respondents reported fairly heavy use of their preferred apps, with a strong majority reporting at least weekly use (see fig. 4).  Given the settings in which the classes were given, it would be reasonable to assume that these classes were made up of people very interested in their health and in finding new tools to maintain it. 


Figure 4. Health consumers use their favorite apps frequently, with a majority using them at least weekly.


Finally, the most popular uses for mobile heatlh  apps were for fitness, tracking and reference purposes; finding health news and nutrition information were less popular choices (see fig. 5).  Favored apps among this population are MedlinePlus, MyFitnessPal, LoseIt!, The Centers for Disease Control’s CDC app, and PubMed. 


Figure 5. Among health consumers, the most popular uses for mobile health apps were for fitness, tracking and reference purposes.


Librarians attending the TLA conference

By providing our presentation on consumer-level mobile apps at the Tennessee Library Association’s 2013 conference in Chattanooga, we had an opportunity to survey librarians on their preferences as well. While we expected to see a greater variation in the types of devices used, it is clear that Apple products are also highly prized by librarians.  Librarians were the only group that showed a majority using the iPad as their mobile device of choice, rather than a smartphone (see fig. 6).  While we didn’t have the opportunity to go further in our inquiry, it would seem reasonable to assume that many librarians are using iPads in their work. 

LIbrarians: Do you have a mobile device, and if so, what kind?

Figure 6. Librarians in attendance preferred Apple mobile devices over Android, by a margin of 2 to 1. iPads were the most widespread device used by librarians in attendance.


Another interesting variation was seen in how librarians find the apps that they use (see fig. 7).  Recommendations from health coaches and nurses, as well as online sources including, Quixey, and Apps Gone Free were major sources for the apps that librarians use.  In addition, news reports were a major source, all indicating that librarians were looking for authoritative sources for quality apps.  This is a characteristic that bodes well, indicating that as librarians we will use our research skills in finding quality apps for ourselves and for patrons.

How did you find these apps?

Figure 7. Librarians find the apps they use in a variety of ways. 


Survey results also showed that librarians were very heavy users of the apps they selected, with at least 80% of respondents reporting they used their favorite apps on at least a weekly basis (see fig. 8). 


Figure 8. Librarians reported using favorite heatlh apps frequently.


Librarians attending our session at TLA overwhelmingly used health-related mobile apps for fitness purposes, as opposed to our consumer health session attendees, who used them equally for tracking and reference (see fig. 9). The most mentioned app in this survey was MyFitnessPal; other apps listed included My Heart Surgery Risk, Digifit, Heartrate, Colorblind Vis, and Cardiograph.  

For what purposes have you found these apps to be useful?

Figure 9. Librarians attendees of the TLA conference primarily use health apps for fitness purposes.


In addition to the opportunity to share research with colleagues, this session clearly pointed out even more opportunities to expand the scope of our research to cover librarians as well as to offer tools to help them better serve patrons.

Discussions & Conclusions

Libraries clearly have a role in helping users to find quality mobile apps, building on the established roles of librarians in providing access to technology and training.  And, as with Internet searching and technology training, this is a role that we have to assert and establish by way of expertise in an ever changing landscape.  The first step is to begin familiarizing ourselves with the devices and apps that our users already are using.  Through this project, librarians at Preston Medical Library discovered that learning this information can be as simple as having impromptu conversations with users or inserting a few new questions into existing surveys.  It wasn’t necessary to change our entire workflow to begin addressing users’ needs.  One of the most valuable tools we discovered for finding apps was Quixey (; this is a search engine for mobile apps that includes apps from all major platforms, including Apple, (iPhone, iPad), Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone.  

The Healthy Smartphone presentation has required regular updates as the marketplace of available apps is continually shifting.  Even within this shifting landscape, some favorite apps have remained popular; physicians generally prefer ePocrates, and nurses have generally preferred Micromedex for drug information.  Many of our consumers (and librarians!) mentioned using MyFitnessPal, which remains very popular.  The library has updated research guides to help patrons of all varieties to find apps, in particular so that nurses and physicians can obtain mobile access to major library database subscriptions.  In our classes, a combination of 200 residents, nurses, and consumers were trained.

For Residents and to a lesser degree for nurses as well, Apple’s iPhone and iPad can be said to be emerging standards.  Residents and Nurses are finding, paying for, and using apps in their work, with or without the library’s help.  Thus, librarians need to stay abreast of these trends or risk being left behind by a fast moving mobile population.  As the positive reception to the library’s classes demonstrate, there is room for librarian involvement.  Librarians can help in directing users to the most reliable and least biased health-related mobile apps. 

Consumer health patrons are just beginning to use mobile health apps.  These users are looking more for tools to help them track their diets and fitness routines rather than for chronic disease management or health news resources.  The research results in this study also show that these users, like many of the library’s consumer health patrons in general, were mostly female and older.  This would concur with national trends, in that mobile technologies are being adopted by the population as a whole, rather than being primarily the domain of an early adopter demographic.  

Clearly, this is a topic that will merit further study.  But, as this paper has shown, maintaining awareness of patron preferences for mobile technologies does not require massive amounts of staff time or lengthy surveys.  Weaving these important questions into the library’s regular routine and existing surveys can yield a great deal of valuable data and present many opportunities to build connections with users.


Mary Meeker, Scott Devitt, Liang Wu. (2010). Internet Trends [Presentation].

Ingram, Mathew. (2010). Mary Meeker: Mobile internet will soon overtake fixed internet. Retrieved from:

Fox, Susannah. (2013). Pew Internet: Health.

Mosa, Abu Saleh, Yoo, Illhoi, and Sheets, Lincoln. (2012). A systematic review of  healthcare applications for smartphones. BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, 12, 67. Retrieved from: doi:10.1186/1472-6947-12-67

Peck, A. D. (2011). App-solutely fabulous. Hundreds of new apps for iPad and tablets make mHealth a reality and a lifestyle choice. Medical Economics 88, 22: S11-4.

Further Reading

Burke, L. E., M. A. Styn, S. M. Sereika, M. B. Conroy, L. Ye, K. Glanz, M. A. Sevick, and L. J. Ewing. (2012). Using mHealth technology to enhance self-monitoring for   weight loss: A randomized trial. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 43, 1: 20-26.

Eysenbach, G. and CONSORT-EHEALTH Group. (2011). CONSORT-EHEALTH: Improving and standardizing evaluation reports of web-based and mobile health interventions. Journal of Medical Internet Research 13, 4: e126.

Handel, M. J. 2011. mHealth (mobile health)-using apps for health and wellness. Explore (New York, N.Y.) 7, 4: 256-261.

Rosario, J. A., M. T. Ascher, and D. J. Cunningham. 2012. A study in usability: redesigning a health sciences library's mobile site. Medical Reference Services Quarterly 31, 1:1-13.


General Health Apps


despite the small print that lets the user know that WebMD is funded by drug companies and could reflect commercial bias, the app has some useful features.

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad, Android
  • Commercial, Ad Supported
  • Features:
    • Symptom Checker
    • Drugs & Treatments
    • Pill Identification Tool
    • Local Health Listings


The National Library of Medicine’s premier consumer health site with unbiased information.

  • Mobile Optimized Website (
    • So you can use it on any device with a browser!
  • Free; MedlinePlus is produced by the National Library of Medicine
  • Search on:
    • Health Topics
    • Drugs
    • Medical Terms
  • Also available in Spanish
  • Tip: On iPhone, iPod Touch, Add to Home Screen for icon on your device.

Livestrong English-Spanish Dictionary of Cancer Terms

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad
  • Free
  • Searchable dictionary of over 6,000 definitions provided by the National Cancer Institute

Skyscape Medical resources

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry
  • Free
  • Features:
    • RXDrugs – information on thousands of Brands and Generics including interactions and dosing calculators
    • Archimedes – medical calculator with 200 interactive tools
    • Outlines in Clinical Medicine – Evidence Based clinical information on hundreds of diseases and symptom-related topics


  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Kindle Fire
  • Free App from WebMD, more oriented toward healthcare professionals
  •  Features:
    • Medical news & alerts for 34 specialty areas
    • Can find, save, and email articles from the app.
    • Includes drug information on over 8000 drugs
    • Drug Interaction Checker
    • Can save searches

Fitness & Nutrition


  • Downloadable App for iPad, iPhone.
  • Free
  • Features:
    • Calorie Counter
    • Diet Tracker
    • Fitness Tracker
    • 1.1 million foods in database
    • Fast data entry


  • Downloadable App for iPad, iPhone
  • Free
  • Features:
    • Calorie counter
    • Social networking features
    • Helps you set goals for:
      • Sleep
      • Exercise
      • Measurements
      • Macronutrients
  • Winner 2012 U.S. Surgeon General’s Healthy App Challenge

Weight Watchers Mobile

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad, Android
  • Free from Weight Watchers
  • Features:
    • Monitor and track food and activity points
    • Check point values for favorite foods
    • Includes social networking functions


  • Downloadable App for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone
  • Free for basic version.
  • Maps your workout with built-in GPS, tracking your progress by distance, calories burned, speed, heart rate, etc.


  • Downloadable App, available for iPhone, iPad, and Android
  • Free
  • Includes barcode reader; scan UPC codes and learn about food before you buy
  • Winner 2012 U.S. Surgeon General’s Healthy App Challenge

Food & Fitness Tracker for Sparkpeople

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android
  • Free
  • Features:
    • Food & calorie tracker with more than 1 million foods in the database
    • Daily meal plans customized for your goals
    • Weigh in page that graphs weight and progress over time
    • Boasts the most detailed weight and calorie reports of any iPhone food tracker
    • Track calories and workouts in one app.

Digifit iCardio

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad
  • Basic version is free, specialized versions for running, biking
  • Works with Fitbit, and a variety of other devices that measure cardio activity

Instant heart rate

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone
  • Free
  • Features:
    • Uses device camera for reading, does not require a flash.
    • Free version allows storage of up to 5 readings.
    • Waveform graphs
    • Optimized for iPhone, usable on iPad, iPod Touch
  • 4+ Stars on iTunes Store


  • Downloadable App for iPad, iPhone
  • Free
  • Features:
    • Measures heart rate through device camera
    • Allows you to compare stats with averages throughout the world
    • Graphs allow you to see change over time

Medication and Drug Information


  • Mobile Optimized Website (
    • So you can use it on any device with a browser!
  • Free; Drug Info Portal is produced by the National Library of Medicine
  • Search for information on over 33,000 drugs
  • Tip: On iPhone, iPod Touch, Add to Home Screen for icon on your device.


  • Mobile-optimized website: (
  • Free
  • Features:
    • Search on over 36,000 drugs
    • Quality information from National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine

MedCoach Medication Reminder

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad, Android
  • Free
  • Features:
    • Medication information
    • Medication reminders
    • Refill reminders – can connect to pharmacy
    • Can track history to assess compliance over time
  • Listed in AARP Best Apps of 2012

PillJogger Lite

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad
  • Free
  • Features:
    • A virtual pillbox with reminders of when to take medications, as well as refill reminders and the ability to share information.
    • Provides encouragement through virtual points and rewards
  • Ratings         
    • 4+ Stars rating on ITunes

Food Safety & Recalls


  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad
  • Free
  • Features recall information from:
    • FDA
    • USDA
    • CPSC
    • EPA
    • NHTSA


Archimedes Free Medical Calculator

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Palm, and Windows Mobile
  • Free download included with Skyscape
  • Over 200 interactive tools, organized by specialty

BMI Calculator

  •  Downloadable app for iPhone, iPad, Android.
  • Free download, commercial product
  • Features:
    • Can set how length and weight are measured
    • Strong user ratings

NHLBI BMI Calculator

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad
  • Free from The National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
  • Features:
    • Can toggle between English/Metric measurements
    • Includes normal ranges

Chronic Disease Management

STAT Framingham Heart Age

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad
  • Free
  • Features:
    • Calculates 10 year Cardiovascular Disease Risk, based on:
      • Age
      • Cholesterol level
      • Blood Pressure
      • Smoking

Glucose Buddy 

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad
  • Free
  • Provides a convenient way to log, graph, and store glucose readings.

Breast Cancer: Beyond the Shock

  • Downloadable App from National Breast Cancer Foundation
  • Free
  • Features:
    • Content to help users learn more about the condition
    • Hear stories from survivors
    • Ask questions


  • Downloadable App for IPhone, iPad
  • Free
  • Features:
    • Track asthma symptoms, triggers, peak flow, medications
    • Visualize asthma activity on a color graph
    • Map PFM to severity zones
    • 5 star user rating

T2 Mood Tracker

  • Downloadable App available for iPhone, iPad, Android
  • Free
  • Features:
    • Monitor moods on six pre-loaded scales, anxiety, stress, depression, brain injury, post-traumatic stress, general well-being
    • Custom scales can be built
    • Can add notes to document daily events, medication changes and treatments

Emergencies, Disaster Safety & Public Health

Centers for disease Control (CDC) App

Health Map Mobile

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad, Android
  • Free
  • Mapping of disease outbreaks near you


  • Downloadable App for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and as mobile optimized website (
  • Features:
    • Information on preparedness
    • Contact information for FEMA
    • Where to go for help

Poison Center Help

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad
  • Free App Developed by American Association of Poison Control Centers
  • Features:
    • Free, confidential access to poison control experts
    • Keeping the app on hand means never having to worry about where to find the number in an emergency

EPA AirNow

  • Downloadable App for iPad, iPhone
  • Free
  • Features:
    • Real-time, location-specific reports
    • Current air quality
    • Air quality forecasts for ozone and fine particle pollution

UV index from EPA

  • Downloadable App for IPhone, Android, Blackberry, and as a mobile optimized website  (
  • Free
  • Features:
    • UV Index
    • Air quality ratings wherever you are


Drop Box

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad, also accessible from your web browser.
  • Free
  • Features:
    • Securely store files online
    • Share files with other users

Weather Underground

  • Downloadable App for iPhone, iPad, Android
  • Free
  • Also available as a Mobile-optimized website:
  • Features:
    • Users can set up their own weather station, to add their readings to the Weather Underground network
    • Over 22,000 personal weather stations report data
    • Interactive Wundermap
    • Temp, ‘feels like’ temp, wind speed & direction, humidity, dew point, visibility, pressure, gusts and severe weather covered


  • Note: Not an App
  • Search engine designed specifically for apps
  • Mobile Apps Directory

  • Note: Not an App
  • Mobile-optimized website
  • Free from
  • Directory of US Government Apps
  • TIP: Browse this for mobile apps

NLM Gallery of Mobile Apps and Sites

  • Note: Not an App
  • Free from National Library of Medicine

Directory of Mobile Optimized Websites and Apps.


Health Professionals' Favorite Apps

Visual DX


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