Unbound Medicine and the iPhone

Earlier this month Unbound Medicine announced an application for the iPhone and iPod Touch that allows users in institutions that subscribe to uCentral to access it on those Apple devices. 

uCentral is a customizable product that allows institutions to select and provide a list of medical reference resources.  Institutions can either purchase titles for their users or provide discounts for individual purchases. 

Until recently uCentral was not available on the iPhone or iPod Touch.  After the announcement of their uCentral app, I decided to try it for myself. 

You must download the app either through iTunes or the App Store on the device.  The app is free but you must be affiliated with an institution that has uCentral for it to work.  Unfortunately there are several people who don’t realize this because the app has a 2 1/2 star rating in the App Store.  Of the six people who reviewed it, almost every poor review came from somebody who didn’t realize or criticized the fact that you need an institutional subscription to uCentral.  (Welcome to the way hospital and academic medical reference resources are paid for people.  What do you think librarians have been saying for years now, “It isn’t all free or cheap on the Internet.)

It took a while for me to install the app using the App Store on the 3G network.  I don’t know whether this was due to the application’s size or my 3G getting finicky.  Since iTunes and the App Store are blocked on by my institution, I could not use the wifi to download it quickly. 

uCentral is an institutional gateway product where institutionally affiliated users can select and access their institution subscription’s Unbound Medicine titles.  So if the institution does not subscribe to Davis’s Drug Guide through Unbound then the individual using uCentral will not be able to get it and use it through uCentral.  

Over 30 titles are available through uCentral.  The titles are the same quality titles like Davis’s Drug Guide, 5 Minute Clinical Consult, and Emergency Medicine Manual that have been available through Unbound Medicine for some time on different access platforms (Internet, PocketPC, Palm, etc.).  A Medline and PubMed alerting service is available where individual users can set up auto alerts and table of contents deliveries that link back to the institution’s journal collection. 

Once the app installed on my device, I was asked for a username and password.  (So far, it appears to have remembered that information because I have not had to re-enter it again.)  The device the syncs to the institution’s uCentral account and begins to upload the available titles to the iPhone.  This can take a bit of time if you have quite a few resources. 

The titles are loaded on the device and updates are downloaded periodically or if I hit the little update arrows in top right corner.  The titles are downloaded directly to the device so you theoretically don’t need to have a WiFi or cell signal to use them.  I decided to use the airplane mode on my iPhone (airplane mode turns off the device’s ability to send or receive signals) to test how well the products work on device without WiFi or 3G.  They worked perfectly.  The only thing that did not work were links to the links to the full text articles to journals or Medline records, and that I expected.  But the actual reference texts worked quite well. 

Having the titles directly loaded on the device is especially helpful this means that a doctor or nurse can use the texts independent of the device’s connection of WiFi or 3G network.  Every hospital has WiFi and cellular “dead zones,”  such as the basement, radiology department, some obscure hallway, older buildings with a lot of metal, etc.  Making these texts available and usable regardless of connection signal means that a doctor or nurse can access the title wherever they are in the institution. 

Accoridng to Unbound’s information, individuals can also conduct Medline searches and retrieve the table of contents to institutional journals.  I was able to login to my uCentral account online from a computer and create a Medline search.  The search interface is very basic and I couldn’t figure out how to do that on the phone or how to retrieve the Medline results on the phone.  If I were doing a Medline search on my iPhone I would probably opt for PubMed’s handheld interface.  I never could find out how you send the table of contents of certain journals to my phone either.  I don’t know if this is because I missed some instructions or if things are limited because I am on a trial account.  

I did find one thing distracting about uCentral’s News and Medline Journals applications.  The titles and the brief abstracts loaded on to the phone but when you want to look at the full text, you have to go out onto the Internet using Safari this process ends up closing uCentral.  So you have to click on the uCentral app and then click on News to read the about the next title.  You cannot toggle back and forth between the full text in Safari and the uCentral News.  I think this problem has more to do with the iPhone and iPod Touch’s inability to multi-task, however there are other iPhone apps such as TweetDeck that are able to display web pages within the app seamlessly. 

While there were a few distracting issues, I found uCentral to be a very helpful product that allows institutionally associated users access to medical and nursing reference texts in the palm of their hand.  The fact that these texts are available and usable when the phone is outside of WiFi and cellular range is an important detail that many medical apps on the iPhone fail to realize is necessary.  A doctor or nurse can’t rely on an application that only works when there is a good signal, they need something they can use to treat a patient regardless of where they are located in the hospital and whether there is network access.

I would be interested to hear what other medical professionals have to say about uCentral on the iPhone or iPod Touch.  I would also be interested to hear what other librarians have to say about their patrons use of uCentral.  Please leave a comment if you would like to share your experiences.

For those of you interested in what uCentral looks like on the iPhone and iPod Touch devices, Unbound has an demo that you can view.

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