Will Your Smart Phone Be There When You Need It?

As a physician, when you think about the most important piece of equipment you carry with you, the first answer that comes to mind is probably your stethoscope. But is it the correct answer? Isn’t your smart phone really your most valuable piece of equipment?

“That [smart phone] is really like an out-sourced piece of your brain,” says Bob Kernen, vice president of product for The Little Blue Book. “It’s in your hand, in your pocket, all day long. It’s a very intimate friend.”

And its usage is only going to become more and more important, which is why selecting the right smart phone is such a critical decision.

Operating system and apps

One of the first decisions when it comes to selecting a smart phone is which operating system you prefer to use: IOS, which is Apple’s system for the iPhone, or Google’s Android? And part of that decision centers on the applications you want to use.

“People get smart phones these days because they want apps,” Kernen says. “Apps are the drivers. You want to make sure that all of the apps you like, and that you intend to use on your phone, are available through either the App Store or the Android market. I know a few physicians who didn’t choose Android because they felt like more of the apps weren’t available yet.”

Android is catching up, but Seth Rabinowitz, lead consultant for Silicon Associates, doesn’t know if physicians want to always be wondering and waiting for the next things to come out.

Kernen encourages physicians wrestling with a smart phone decision to go to a bricks and mortar store and spend some time physically handling the products. He says that salespeople are more than happy to “let you mess around with them a bit and see how they really feel.”

User interface

When The Little Blue Book Mobile was recently developed, Kernen says the company spent a great deal of time focusing on the user interface. In other words, making sure the application is going to work the way in a manner that meets a physician’s needs.

According to Kernen, the best apps serve a specific function and are easy to use. After all, apps today almost never come with instructions.

“If you can’t figure it out from just looking at it and working your way through it, in my opinion, that app’s not a success,” Kernen says. “I think it’s really important that the user be able to, very easily and very quickly, figure out how to use it.”

That includes feeling comfortable with how the smart phone functions. Most smart phones today are touch screen, though some are touch screen with a keyboard. The choice between the two is an important one.

“I like having a physical keyboard as opposed to a touch screen keyboard,” Kernen says. “I write a lot of emails, so even though the touch screen keyboard on the iPhone is really good, I like having a physical keyboard instead. That’s something important for physicians to consider.”

Carriers and contracts

Verizon Wireless. AT&T. T-Mobile. MetroPCS. Contract plans or pay as you go? Does it make a difference which carrier you choose for your smart phone? Rabinowitz says it does.

“I’ve been in some newer hospital complexes that are just state of the art, and they have great cell phone service from every carrier throughout the complexes,” he explains. “Yet, when you get into the elevator shaft, you get zero signal from AT&T, yet a slightly better signal from Verizon.”

Rabinowitz points out that while AT&T is better with data, Verizon has better building penetration. Kernen also points out that physicians need a level of service for their smart phone that is going to be bullet proof reliable all the time.

“I can’t think of a person who can least afford to have poor service than a physician,” Kernen says. “They need that device to work, and to work all the time. I wouldn’t want to be at the mercy of some low-cost carrier when I need [the smart phone] the most.”