iPhone Is the Apple of Epocrates’ Eye

By Cindy Atoji

April 22, 2008 | Epocrates, a leading drug-reference database vendor, is racing to develop a new iPhone application for medical professions. Kirk Loevner, chairman and CEO of Epocrates, says the “killer ap” is set to be released shortly after Apple’s iPhone 2 tools are made available in June. Epocrates is one of the few companies working with Apple to develop third-party software for the iPhone.

“We have a good number of resources devoted to moving our content to the iPhone,” says Loevner. “The technology and the software in the iPhone will allow us to create new and innovative applications that help improve patient safety and provide health care professionals with an unsurpassed user experience.” Loevner spoke with Digital HealthCare & Productivity about the development of its clinical software products for the iPhone operating system.

DHP: Why Epocrates on the iPhone?

Loevner: The iPhone is like a small computer now as opposed to a PDA, and it will allow us to develop more powerful applications in a way that’s easier for physicians to download and use. Today, you can access an application through the Safari browers, but it’s limiting.

What Apple announced about a month ago is native development, where the application actually resides on device itself as opposed to accessing the application through the browser. That’s important, particularly in a hospital or medical setting, because often you don’t have Internet access, and when you have an important application, the user needs to know that it will always be resident on the device—that he doesn’t need Internet to access the content.

It’s also faster when the application is native than when you try to access it through a browser. You can also do more. With the browser, you’re limited with user actions, but with native application, and all the gesture commands with the Apple, you can directly manipulate objects on the device, and you can’t do that with a browser-based application, which is all page-based.

We think there are iPhone capacities that we will be able to take advantage of—the high resolution graphics, large amount of storage space, elegant user interface. It will allow us to do things more graphically and easily.

DHP: Among the medical professionals who currently use your software, what has their feedback been regarding the iPhone news?

Loevner: We get a lot of emails from our users—the iPhone is the number one requested device of our user network. We did some surveys and asked, “What device do you plan to buy over the next 12 months?” The iPhone comes up on the top now. Blackberry is popular too.

DHP: How do you think the iPhone will impact clinicians’ use of devices at point of care?

Loevner: It’s going to be an important device because it’s really captured the imagination of users, including health care professionals, and Apple has integrated it with e-mail and enterprise systems. You have eight or 16 gigabites of storage on the device. And you’ll eventually be able to incorporate graphics, videos, and other media, even though today most applications are going to be text-based.

DHP: If I have an iPhone/iTouch now, can I get your content?

Loevner: When Apple releases the tools in June, you’ll be able to do that. Soon after that, we will release our application. We don’t have a hard date for delivery at this point. You can access us today on the Internet through the Safari browser, though.

DHP: Since about 40 percent of doctors use hand-helds, what impact will the iPhone have?

Loevner: I think that number will go up based on new devices like the iPhone—the penetration will become higher than 40 percent. There was a recent study that said 25 percent of iPhone users were no longer using their notebook computer—they were using their iPhone instead. This is fascinating, because the iPhone is becoming a notebook replacement for some portion of iPhone users.

DHP: Doctors are typically portrayed as resistant to the introduction of information technology. But the experience of Epocrates indicates that physicians can be receptive if a technology is affordable and delivers real benefits. What is your advice to other companies trying to reach this market?

Loevner: You can’t force them to change their workflow. You have to develop tools, technology and content that fits into their daily workflow. I’ll take the example of the ePrescribing companies from 10 years ago. They all tried to force physicians to log onto a system and do their prescribing over the computer. But they were solving a problem that didn’t exist in the physician’s mind because doctors could write a script that took them five seconds. So if you force them to change workflow without providing great benefit, then you run into resistance.

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