The response rate and demographic results suggest that our study sample is representative of the target population of dermatology residents in America. Overall, the survey results support our hypotheses.
A survey conducted in 2008 before apps were readily available found that dermatology residents felt they learned more successfully when engaging in hands-on, direct experience; talking with experts/consultants; and studying printed materials than when using multimedia programs.4 Our study suggests that the usage of and preference for multimedia programs, including apps, in dermatology resident training has risen substantially, despite the continued availability of guidance from attendings and senior residents.
As residents progress through training, they increasingly turn to virtual resources. According to our survey, junior residents are more likely than third-year residents to use apps for self-education, and up-to-date and accurate information was a more important consideration when choosing apps. Third-year residents are more likely than junior residents to use apps for medication dosage and saving time. Perhaps related, GoodRx, an app that provides prescription discounts, was more prevalent among third-year residents. It is notable that most of the reported apps, including those used for diagnosis and treatment, did not need premarket government approval to ensure patient safety, are not required to contain up-to-date information, and do not reference primary sources. Additionally, only UpToDate has been shown in peer-reviewed literature to improve clinical outcomes.5
Our survey also revealed a few differences by sex. Female respondents consulted resources during clinical work more often than male residents. This finding is similar to the limited existing research on dermatologists’ utilization of information showing higher dermoscopy use among female attendings.6 Use of GoodRx was less prevalent among female vs male respondents. Perhaps related, a 2011 study found that female primary care physicians are less likely to prescribe medications than their male counterparts.7
Our study had several limitations. There may have been selection bias such that the residents who chose to participate were relatively more interested in mobile health. Certain demographic data, such as race, were not captured because prior studies do not suggest disparity by those demographics for mobile health utilization among residents, but those data could be incorporated into future studies. Our survey was intentionally limited in scope. For example, it did not capture the amount of time spent on each consult resource or the motivations for consulting an app instead of a provider.
A main objective of residency is to train new physicians to provide excellent patient care. Our survey highlights the increasing role of apps in dermatology residency, different priorities among years of residency, and different information utilization between sexes. This knowledge should encourage and help guide standardization and quality assurance of virtual residency education and integration of virtual resources into formal curricula. Residency administrators and residents should be aware of the apps used to learn and deliver care, consider the evidence for and regulation of those apps, and evaluate the accessibility and approachability of attendings to residents. Future research should examine the educational and clinical outcomes of app utilization among residents and the impact of residency programs’ unspoken cultures and expectations on relationships among residents of different demographics and their attendings.