Epocrates pulls plug on Bugs + Drugs

'We welcome and encourage all feedback as we continue to refine and add to our existing services and apps'
By Jonah Comstock
10:22 AM
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Epocrates, an athenahealth subsidiary, pulled its Bugs + Drugs app from the App Store this past week, two years after the free mobile tool was found by physician reviewers at the iMedicalApps review site to be rife with errors.

Bugs + Drugs, which launched in fall 2013 shortly after athenahealth acquired Epocrates, was designed to use big data to help doctors keep track of bacterial immunities and prescribe the right antibiotics.

[See also: Epocrates seen as boon for athenahealth]

The app was well-received initially -- it promised to put data from athenahealth's EHRs to work by sourcing bacterial sensitivity, something which changes over time, in near-real time.

"What's exciting about this is it takes athena data and it pulls the big data into a moment of care that allows a physician to provide a personalized solution," Abbe Don, Epocrates' VP of User Experience told MobiHealthNews at the time of the launch.

But iMedicalApps itself, a mobile health app review site edited by physicians exclusively, raised some concerns (as did a number of physicians in the app's comment section). While the app was well-designed and easy to use, they wrote. It was fraught with errors, sometimes recommending totally erroneous antibiotics for certain bacteria, and other times presenting sensitivity estimates at odds with hospitals' antibiograms (the previous method for evaluating bacteria susceptibilities). Epocrates updated the app to address these some of these concerns at the time, but physicians' faith in the tool was shaken.

[See also: Epocrates returns to mobile core]

It's unclear why the app was shut down now, given that the concerns about accuracy are about two years old. Epocrates has removed a few other apps from the app store. NCCN Guidelines, an app for navigating treatment guidelines for cancer was removed some time since March and modalityBODY, an app developed by Epocrates subsidiary Modality was removed some time since February 2014. Two flashcard apps, two medical translation apps, and a growth charting app are also listed on Epocrates' website but no longer appear in the app store.

Although Epocrates continues to top the list of most used physician apps in Manhattan Research's annual Taking the Pulse survey, the subsidiary has been quiet overall since the acquisition and didn't even merit a mention in athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush's last earnings call.

athenahealth sent MobiHealthNews a statement explaining the shutdown of Bugs + Drugs as well as some of the other apps.

"Bugs + Drugs was the first example of how Epocrates' mobile content expertise could combine with athenahealth's cloud-based data to equip providers with timely, elegantly presented insights to help them make more confident clinical decisions in moments of care," the company wrote. "Though Bugs + Drugs was well-received, the app required continual iteration to ensure the most up-to-date geo-located bacterial resistance insights were available. Therefore, we decided to discontinue the app and focus on enhancing the functionality of our existing Epocrates app to continue to deliver the highest caliber of service our members expect and love, and to support the development of tools that serve the needs of the care continuum more broadly. One example of this focus is the work we're doing around athenaText, our new secure text messaging platform that bridges communication gaps by keeping critical health information flowing among providers.

[See also: Mapping a new future for GIS]

"We welcome and encourage all feedback as we continue to refine and add to our existing services and apps," athenahealth officials added. "We have also made the decision to discontinue other apps this past year (Pocket Medical, Pregnancy and Infant Care, the Growth Evaluation tool, etc…) due to a lack of user interest."

This story first appeared on MobiHealthNews.