Demographic characteristics of surveyed dentists in China
A total of 379 valid responses were received. The median study subject age was 33.6 years old (range: 19– 59 years old), and 240 (63.3%) subjects were female. A total of 168 (44.3%) subjects worked in public hospitals, and 211 (55.7) subjects worked in private hospitals or clinics. Additionally, 47.2% of subjects were resident dentists, 40.4% were dentists in charge, and 12.4% were senior or associate senior dentists. All subjects (100%) owned a smartphone. The most popular brands of smartphones were Apple (46.2%) and Huawei (34%, Table 2).
The use of WeChat or QQ in dentists’ clinical work
All participants installed WeChat or QQ on their smartphones, and they all used WeChat or QQ in their clinical practices. Participants reported that their main purposes for using WeChat or QQ in clinical practice were acquiring medical information (84.2%), communicating with peers (83.6%) and communicating with patients (77.6%). The frequency of using WeChat or QQ in clinical practice was reported to be at least once a day (73.6%), at least once a week (20.8%), or less than once a month (5.5%, Table 3). The time of daily usage is shown in Table 3; 25.9% subjects used WeChat or QQ in their clinical practice for more than 60 minutes per day, 19% subjects reported their daily use time was 21-30 minutes, 17.4% subjects reported their daily use time was 11-20 minutes.
The use of medical apps in dentists’ clinical work
A total of 288 (76%) subjects had medical apps (other than WeChat and QQ) installed on their smartphones, and 91 (24%) subjects did not have any medical apps installed, as shown in Table 4. Male dentists were more likely to install medical apps than female dentists (chi-square = 6.702, p < 0.05). With increasing age, the percentage of dentists who had medical apps installed decreased (chi-square = 45.3.3, p < 0.001). However, dentists’ workplace and medical rank were not significantly associated with the installation of medical apps (chi-square = 1.670, p = 0.196; chi-square = 5.466, p = 0.065, respectively, Table 5). Among the 288 subjects, the average number of medical apps installed was 2.62±1.73 (range: 1-12). Most subjects (71.5%) reported that they had 1-5 medical apps installed on their smartphones, and only 0.5% of subjects had more than 10 medical apps installed on their smartphones (Table 4). The frequency and daily use (in minutes) of these medical apps among dentists is shown in Table 6. A total of 46.5% of subjects used medical apps at least once a day, 42.4% of subjects used them at least once a week, and 11.1% used them less than once a month. Among those who reported daily use, most reported 11-20 minutes of usage (31.6%) per day, followed by 11-10 minutes (29.2%) and 21-30 minutes (15.6%). Only 5.2% of subjects reported that they used medical apps more than 60 minutes per day (Table 6). The top three purposes for using medical apps were reviewing medical knowledge (63.6%), reading medical news (36.4%), and reading medical journals (27.9%, Table 7).
Perceptions of smartphone-based medical apps and their impacts on clinical practice
The majority of subjects strongly agreed or agreed that they are looking to obtain more medical apps in the future (1.52 ± 0.69), that they would recommend these medical apps to other peers (1.67 ± 0.68), that medical apps are essential tools for undergraduate medical studies (1.91 ± 0.78), and that medical apps supplement medical textbooks (1.83 ± 0.64). Regarding whether medical apps are superior to medical textbooks (3.16 ± 0.81) or whether medical apps can replace medical textbooks (3.31 ± 0.94), the majority of subjects reported disagreement or that they were not sure. A total of 46.2% of subjects agreed that there are dangers in using medical apps for patient care, and 39.6% of subjects were not sure about this question (2.61 ± 0.73, Table 8).
The majority of subjects agreed that medical apps could improve clinical decision making (2.30 ± 0.77), save time (2.11 ± 0.68), help in making differential diagnoses (2.56 ± 0.74), and perform useful medical-related calculations (2.52 ± 0.77). Additionally, medical apps were thought to be beneficial for allowing faster access to evidence-based medical practices/cases (2.34 ± 0.80); they were reported to be reliable sources of clinical skills (2.25 ±0.67), medical knowledge (2.19 ± 0.68), common laboratory reference values (2.30 ± 0.65), and medical information (1.90 ± 0.54, Table 9).