Rebecca O’Cleirigh reviews apps for phones and PC's
There are a reasonable number of apps out there to help with the practice of Chinese medicine. These fall into four main categories: there are the apps for acupuncture point location; herbs and formulae references; eBooks of a few texts and some of the classics; and practice management software. There are also a range of very basic apps aimed at the layperson which describe in simplistic terms what acupuncture is or what herbal remedies are. These are cheap, or even free, and of little use professionally. The free ones tend to mean they are of poor quality, riddled with ads or only useful with in-app purchases. In-app purchases can be a valid business model as it is one way developers use in order to stop apps being run for free on ‘jail broken’ iPhones, but it can feel misleading when you download an app only to find that unless you pay more, functionality is seriously curtailed. There are plenty of apps in Chinese in the app stores but a fair number in English too, mostly coming from the U.S. and so, particularly for herbs, often conforming to requirements for state board exams. That said they cover a good range of standard herbs and formulae for most of us to work from. TCM apps range from 69p or even free, but essentially useless and not worth reviewing, to those for professionals which cost up to $599 (£367) but which are sophisticated and stuffed full of information. How much you spend on apps can range from pocket change to a major investment, the latter probably only being made by a college or large clinic of practitioners, but most of the apps are mid-priced and therefore accessible if right for your needs. This is by no means an exhaustive review of all the apps out there but it is a start, a guide to a few good apps on a range of platforms to get you started. We hope to bring you in-depth reviews of new and improved apps as we gain access to review copies. They have been reviewed in alphabetical order. Some are specifically on herbs or acupuncture, but others cover both disciplines and more. This selection is for you to get an idea of what is out there and what to look for when you choose your own. Much of the choice at this stage is restricted as it is platform dependent.
Name: BenCao By: Exebeche Website: http://www.exebeche.com/ Platform: iPhone and iPod touch, Windows mobile Function: Herbs and formulae Price: £20.99 Pros: elegant; stable; fast; fully linked data. Cons: expensive iPhone app; not at all customisable; restricted list of formulae and herbs. This is my favourite app for herbs on the iPhone but only reviewed first as it is in an alphabetical list. I have been using it for years as my pocket reference. I bought it when it was significantly cheaper than it is now but it is still a great reference tool with a nice interface. It has lists of herbs, links through to syndromes and symptoms to compare with other herbs of similar functions and tells you all the formulae in which the herb is found. You can similarly look up from lists of formulae, syndromes and symptoms. The simple, clean, elegant interface does what it says you expect it to and well. It does not provide in-depth information as you would find in Chen and Chen, but the linking of database terms makes up for that by adding functionality and usability. It has herb names with the pinyin with tones, the Latin and the Chinese characters for herb and formulae. It lacks the ability to customise at all, even to add in your own comments or new herbs and formulae. What you get instead is speed and stability and no need to do database maintenance.
Name: Easy Acupuncture 3D By: Graphicvizion Website: http://www.graphicvizion.com Platform: iPad, iPhone and Android Function: Acupuncture point location and use Price: iPhone £13.99, Android £14.99 Pros: great graphics; internal and external cues for location; you can choose which channels and points to display in order to compare. Cons: can be slow and awkward to manipulate the model; colour coding of important points does not work; information on point use is basic. This is a beautiful piece of graphic work and the ability to show the points along meridians and as groups of points (e.g. Wood, Windows of Heaven) is useful. You can compare the channels side by side, which would be helpful when mapping out areas of pain or choosing ah-shi points. You can see internal pathways and sinew channels although you can’t overlay points and sinews. There are good images of the internal structures for locations. The information on the points is relatively simplistic and not searchable but this app is more about location with perfunctory point use. If you work best with visual information and want a point location reference this is a great piece of software, it is a much glorified point location man that is eminently more portable.
Name: Manual of Acupuncture
By: JCM Website: http://www.jcm.co.uk Platform: iPhone and iPad (Android, Windows mobile versions are due out) Function: Acupuncture point location and use Price: £24.99 Pros: movie clips and a written description for point location and how to needle; all the information of the cards but much more portable; a section to add your own notes. Cons: a big app but it does contains a lot of data; expensive at £24.99 but still cheaper than either the cards or the book. Surely every acupuncturist knows this bible of points and this software looks every bit as good as the book or the cards. Now there is even an online version if you want cross platform and have photos using up all the storage on your phone. It loses some of the detail of the full book but what it loses in detail for understanding point use it makes up for in the details of point location. The ability to add your own notes means you can make it more in-depth in areas you choose, but there is no ability to search that data and it is not clear how it is backed up. It doesn’t matter if you work better with text, images or need to see a video, this app can help you confidently find and needle points. It has a built in quiz if you want to test yourself and you can flag up points if you want to remind yourself to look at them in more detail later.
Name: QPuncture 3 By: QPuncture Website: http://www.qpuncture.com Function: Acupuncture, herbs and diagnostic reference Platform: Windows and Mac versions Price: Mac or Windows $599 (£367) Pros: it contains a lot of data on acupuncture, herbs, biomedicine, diet and auricular Cons: the data is not fully integrated or searchable; it is not customisable; it is the most expensive software out there at US$599 and you could buy a lot of text books for that, but they would be very heavy to carry. Sadly the demo version reviewed is quite limited. Many of the functions could not be assessed including some that looked as if they would be very interesting such as e-diagnosis. It purports to be an automatic diagnosis after feeding in complaints and symptoms. This might be an interesting feature if you are feeling unsure about your diagnosis. It has a lot of information in one place with sections on diagnosis, acupuncture points including Master Tung, Dui Xue and scalp acupuncture, as well as a section on auricular acupuncture. It has information on diet and on biomedicine with normal lab values. You can bring up a list of diagnoses by zang fu and it gives lists of points and herbs. It has a greater scope than any of the other applications out there as a single point of reference, but it does not seem as well linked as some of the databases. There are some links to points from diagnosis but not to herbs and it brings up the point in a quick view rather than taking you to the acupuncture points section. It provides a 3D view of the point in X-ray view to help with location and information on needling techniques, talks about the meaning of some of the point names as well as the usual attributes and uses. This app has vast amounts of data, not the kind of in-depth you get in text books but as a single clinic reference it would be a fantastic resource. It is not fully searchable, it isn’t integrated with internal links which means you are always going back to the main menu to find out where the information leads. To provide so much information fully linked would be a massive ask, so this perhaps is the compromise.
Name: Tao Knowledge By: Tao Medic Website: http://www.taomedic.com/ Platform: Windows Function: Diagnosis, points, herbs and formulae Price: Practitioner $149 (£92), Student $89 (£55), ongoing support and subscription $69 (£42) /year. Pros: unlimited customisable information; searchable, point combinations; some chemical information on herb composition.
Cons: information is quick reference not in-depth; web integration is basic. This is a Windows based application containing a vast array of data. You can scroll through a lot of information; there are 250 Western diseases, 80 TCM syndromes, 450 acupuncture points, 400 point combinations, 450 herbs and 300 formulae. All these are interlinked so a search for a disease will give you syndromes and points and formulae. You can search the whole database, which is a powerful tool. The information is not in great depth but it does allow you to approach a question from a number of angles. I can see this being incredibly useful when you have a case and don’t know where to start, it will give you pointers but perhaps not a full answer; it is a reference, not a learning tool. The point combinations are well done, as are the formula modifications. This is however fully customisable so if you want to supplement the database with your own information this is a great product. It is fairly clean in appearance and seems robust and comes with back-up and restore functions as well as database repair options. The web integration is basic, passing a search term to Google search or Google groups. A practitioner’s license allows you to run the software on two computers so that you can have it on both a desktop and a laptop, or at home and in the clinic. A student license is fully functional, but for a single device. Subscription is not compulsory but continues to give you updates, installation files if you loose them and support if you need it.
Name: TCM Herbs and Formulas By: Jeffers software Website: www.creativelogichome.com Platform: Windows 95-XP windows mobile, android Function: Herbs and formulae Price: tcmHerbs Windows $79.99 (£50), tcmHerbs Android $89.99 (£55), tcmHerbs Windows mobile $89.99 (£55), tcmFormula Windows $99.99 (£61). Pros: synchronise data between desktop and mobile device; customisable database; good support; export completed patient formulae, one of the very few for android. Cons: interface can be clunky particularly on Windows; expensive with all the options.
Having a database that can be customised on the desktop with full keyboard and copy and paste functionality and which can then be synchronised to your mobile device for use in clinic is great. It comes with 215 herbs and 150 formulae. If you add in your own data this can be backed up for safe keeping and restored in the event of data loss. One problem is the ease with which you can modify records and overwrite unintentionally, so a backup is a good idea. There is information about Western conditions as well as TCM syndromes and symptoms associated with the herb or formula. Search functionality is good and will search the entire database, including your own additions, for up to three terms and you can then select multiple herbs to compare side by side. It has a formula builder function which allows you keep herbs you have selected and create formulae which you can then print or copy to an email to send on to your dispenser or keep in your patient records. Jeffers also does acupuncture and diagnostic apps.
In summary… You need to decide what it is you want from software, simple reference on the move or the beginnings of a database you can build on for life? What devices do you have and where will you be using them to access the information? For many years the choices have been very limited but there is beginning to be a bit of variety on the market and a bit of competition. Personally I would like to see more of the text books available on kindle as the depth of information is not generally workable in the app format and can add in the kind of internal interlinking which makes electronic data so much more usable. Don’t waste your money on super cheap apps with limited or questionable data. Always look at the reviews where you download it and see what people before you have thought. For the expensive ones download a trial and see if you like the interface and find it attractive and intuitive, because that will be different for everyone and most of them do have that facility.
Rebecca O’Cleirigh Rebecca O’Cleirigh trained as an acupuncturist and herbalist after a ten year career in IT. She is now a practitioner, lecturer (at the Northern College of Acupuncture) and researcher in Chinese medicine