Review of Docphin: App to View & Read Journals on iPad

Previously I reviewed two apps (Browzine and Read)  that help users view and read journals on the iPad.  There are two additional apps that I will be profiling on this blog.  Docphin and DocWise are similar journal apps for the iPad.  Thankfully Alison Aldrich has agreed to test and review Docphin (below) and Joey Nicholson will be reviewing DocWise.  My hope is to get all of the reviews posted then later try and do a comparison chart of the products.

So without further ado, her is Alison’s review of Docphin.

Review of Docphin
by Alison Aldrich

Earlier this month, Krafty reviewed Browzine and Read, two journal reader applications for iPad. Today I’m writing about Docphin. Docphin is of similar ilk to Browzine and Read but with a few interesting differences. 

The “phin” in Docphin stands for personalized health information network. Docphin was founded in 2010 by some entrepreneurial physicians looking to address that all-too-familiar information overload problem. Docphin users customize their experience by choosing the journals and news sources from which they would like to receive updates.Sounds like an RSS reader, right? Docphin attempts to add value over something like Google Reader by suggesting sources based on specialty, simplifying access to full text, and making it easy to comment on and share sources via social media channels. 

Access to Docphin is restricted to those with email addresses at one of approximately 100 U.S. academic institutions that have requested activation. Activation is free and does not necessarily involve anyone from Docphin communicating with the library, so you may have access to Docphin without knowing it. Check by entering your university email address.

 Once your institution is on board, signing up for an account is straightforward. Enter your level of education (attending, fellow, resident, medical student, or other) and between one and three medical specialties of interest to you. Docphin suggests news feeds based on your selections, but you have the final say over the sources you choose.

An important note: Docphin does not cover every journal. It draws content from around 250 journals, so about 5% of the journal titles indexed in PubMed. A Docphin representative explained to me in an email message that journal titles were selected after consultation with hundreds of practicing physicians, including Docphin’s official team of Ambassadors, about what would be the highest impact titles in each specialty. 

In addition to journals, Docphin also draws content from about 250 twitter feeds, many from organizations (publishers, government organizations such as the CDC, AAMC, etc.) and a few from individual physicians. There are a handful of mainstream news media feeds available, too. 

I set up my profile to watch four internal medicine journals, two public health journals, and news feeds from ABC and the New York Times. My home screen looks like this in a regular web browser:

And here’s how it looks in the iPhone app:


Back to the regular web version, in the right column, I see articles that are trending among Docphin users right now. Clicking a journal title smoothly overlays this screen:


I have the option to view the article (this prompts me for my proxy server login), share the citation via social media, like it, comment on it, or mark it as a favorite. I have the option to create my own keyword tagging scheme to keep the articles I tag as favorites organized.

From my home screen, clicking to the Search tab allows me to search by keyword within all of Docphin’s Journals and News collections, practice guidelines from the National Guidelines Clearinghouse, UpToDate, News, Images, and Videos. The UpToDate search does not prompt me for a proxy server login.

Docphin sends regular email alerts about new content from the sources you chose. Email alerts can be turned on and off under Privacy Settings.

Things I Like

The interface is clean and navigation is smooth.

For the journals it covers, Docphin works quite well with my institution’s proxy server as long as our subscription access is direct from the publisher. The system breaks down when it comes to journal content we get through a third party vendor such as EBSCO or Ovid. Those articles were unavailable to me through Docphinfrom off campus. 

I like the integration of Twitter feeds and trends data. Docphin does well to acknowledge these alternative modes of information discovery.

I also like that mainstream media feeds are included. I don’t know many residents who have time to catch the evening news. Docphin could help them stay a step ahead of what their patients are hearing and reading.

Things I Would Like To See

Right now, Docphin can only be accessed through a web browser or an iPhone app. There is no iPad-optimized Docphin application yet, although one is coming. An iPad app will make it much easier to interact with Docphin PDFs on the go.

I would also like to see a collection development policy of some sort.It’s difficult to get a global sense of what Docphin covers because journal titles and Twitter feeds are siloed into lists by specialty. I would like to see a master list of journal titles somewhere.

Docphin does cover a number of open access journals, and of course abstracts are freely accessible. Why not open up this level of content to those outside of registered institutions? This seems like a strategic decision, I’m just not sure what’s behind it.

Other Thoughts

In many ways, Docphin reminds me of another social scholarship website making headlines lately: Mendeley. Both work with proxy servers to simplify full text access. Like Docphin, Mendeley attempts to encourage discussion around individual articles and to expose metrics about who’s reading what. Granted, the discussion part has not exactly caught on yet. There are many, many articles and few discussions. Still, I like the idea of a discussion platform that is independent of publishers—sort of a universal online journal club.

I have been impressed with Mendeley as a PDF and bibliographic citation management tool. These features combined withDocphin’s newsfeed personalization capabilities would make for a very unique product I think.

Bottom Line

Docphin is worth a look, and another look once the iPad app is released. The developers have been quite successful at growing the business through their networks of newer physicians and medical students. Your physicians and medical students need to understand, though, that while Docphin is an excellent current awareness tool, it is not the place to go for a comprehensive literature search due to its limited journal coverage and limited search functionality.

For further reading:

TechCrunch article:

 An interview with Docphin co-founderMitesh Patel:

 Another Q&A with Mitesh Patel:


2 thoughts on “Review of Docphin: App to View & Read Journals on iPad”

  1. Thank you for your detailed review of Docphin! As with all of our users, we greatly appreciate your feedback. We are working on many of the features discussed in the review and are excited to release them to the Docphin community shortly.
    -The Docphin team

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