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A comprehensive and portable source of information

by
01 April 2013, at 12:00am

KATE STITT tries out a new app which proves a mine of information

IT was only a matter of time I suppose before the veterinary literature went digital and started being turned into the nowubiquitous mobile “apps”. The new canine dermatology app offering from Virbac, currently available for iOS devices, is a recent entrant in this new field. It’s free to download which, considering the usual cost of textbooks and materials, is already a bonus!

After downloading the app from the App Store onto your iPhone or iPad, you’ll find it’s not quite ready to go right away. Understandably, the folk at Virbac are keen to keep it in the hands of veterinary professionals rather than making their data available to all and sundry, so there’s an accreditation dance to be done via the website at virbacderm.com at the end of which you get issued with a magic code that makes the app work.

This registration process involves a real person somewhere checking credentials, and consequently takes a day or two. It’s pretty straightforward, though frustratingly if you try to go to the website to sign up using the Safari browser on your iPhone or iPad, you find yourself a bit stuck as the website landing page depends on Flash, which the browser doesn’t support.

I had to wait until I got to sit down in front of a “real” computer to do it – which does seem a bit of an oversight given the app is only released for iOS devices at present. Still, the irritation was short-lived and my credentials came through quite promptly.

Magic code in hand, you can finally explore the app, which is divided into two areas: “Clinical Dossiers”, which is a record-keeping and guided differential diagnosis tool, and “Diagnostic Tools”, which is a collection of media and diagnostic information. The app is multilingual, so to reduce the initial download size, the media files are downloaded separately and at the user’s discretion, so you can tailor the app to contain only the specific materials you’re interested in and avoid too much in the way of “bloat”.

The “Diagnostic Tools” area contains a useful set of photographs of primary and secondary lesions (handy if, like me, you sometimes doubt your ability to differentiate a nodule from a furuncle!), the set of monographs previously published in the Virbac Clinical Handbook on Canine Dermatology, some really nice high-quality videos outlining diagnostic procedures, sampling, cytology and so forth, and something calling itself a “Didactic Atlas” which I have to admit was a new concept to me (it’s a client education tool, I discovered).

The first time you use the app, you’ll need to choose and download the media files you want. This was reasonably quick and painless. Taken together, it’s a really useful, pretty comprehensive mine of information, and more portable than most dermatology textbooks.

The “Clinical Dossiers” part of the app I personally found a bit clunky – it may be of more use for users with iPhones or more modern iPads than mine, since it includes the ability to take and store photographs of patients and lesions during the course of treatment. These before-and-after photos may be helpful when communicating with clients about the diagnostic process and the progress you’re making. It could also be a useful tool for collecting data for a casebook.

The app itself is “version 1”, and this does show in places. Developed as an iPhone app, while it can be downloaded and used on an iPad, it doesn’t properly take advantage of the greater resolution and space available. Conversely, the included monographs, captured directly as they are a page at a time from the printed “Handbook”, are lovely and legible on my iPad but will require a fair bit of zooming and scrolling to use on the smaller screen available to iPhone users. The finish in a few places does feel a little bit “beta”, but while hopefully this is something that will be tidied up in future versions, it doesn’t really detract from the usefulness of the app as it is currently.

In summary, then, this is a really useful little iPhone/iPad app. Costs nothing, and you get more than you paid for! While there are a few rough edges they’re a minor nuisance and will hopefully be polished out in future versions. Well worth your time to download and credential to have this convenient pocket dermatology reference to hand.