So now you have your new iPad. Angry birds and surfing the web is great on this new device but let’s face it, it would be nice to justify just a little your purchase for the greater good.

Well, at least for your clinical practice, you can now bring your nice new aluminum wonder to work and not feel like you are showing off.

As as Certified Respiratory Educator I have a great deal of papers and articles that I carry around with me. Some for reference, and some to teach my patients with. The iPad is such a great device to use for teaching and for a quick refresher. Yes you can fill it full of pdf’s and store them in iBooks, but to have an app to use that would exploit the iPad to its full potential would be ideal.

I have searched the iTunes store for apps to use for such a purpose and have found 3 worthy candidates. All three have their short comings, and each one does something the other does not so there isn’t a real winner, but, each one does succeed in fulfilling a certain niche.

The three candidates are:

  • Netter Atlas

Netter’s Anatomy Atlas for iPad costs US$89.99

  • Human Atlas HD

Human Atlas for iPad costs US$29.99 + US$9.99 for extra atlases or $60 complete

  • Visible Body

Visible Body for iPad costs US$29.99

Netter Atlas
As I used each one, I really appreciated the iPad2 interface. Netter’s Anatomy Atlas is by far the most expensive app -1 time initial purchase- (think University text book). After all, it is essentially the famous text book in iPad format. This classic and must have reference for most medical students (Respiratory Therapists, RN’s, or Med students) is so well suited for the iPad interface it may set a trend for further reference materials. Dr. Netter drew highly detailed anatomy illustrations in colour (531) and they are all here for quick reference. You can do a quick search by name or plate number, highlight or hide labels for quizzes, and bookmark favorites for quick reference.


The plates are organized by regions or systems, and once a region is selected you are presented with a highly detailed slide fully labeled. One can hide the label pins, lines and labels, highlight structure names and also select a “related” function.

Loading time is extremely fast and so is the “spotlight” search function. As you type you immediately get results to the name of your query. You can also add your own notes to each slide. This is quite helpful to highlight structures that are of importance to you or during a lecture to add some vital information.

Unfortunately this is where the benefit of this app ends. After all, it is based on the text book so keep in mind that is what you are getting. No 3D or video but an extremely easy to use, searchable, quick reference text book. No explanations for disease process. So if you want a 1.35 Gb advanced text book on your iPad then this is right for you. I’m not saying it is not worth the money, because it is as a standalone electronic textbook ++. The convenience of the iPad2 and the advanced format in how this text book is rendered is highly recommended. However, as a teaching aid to your students and patients, the next 2 do a better job.

Human Atlas HD

Blausen Human Atlas Hd is a good tool for patient education and for first year med students.
The only issue is the need for an initial high speed connection. To get the whole library it would amount to a reasonable $60.00. I have a fast n router at home and I am able to download the videos, but I really have to question the term “HD”. (update: The term HD refers to iPad capabilities and not the actual videos which are in compressed format due to bandwidth restrictions. There is definite blurring in some areas, esp. around text. The videos are good to look, and it would be nice if there was some way to upload/download them in full quality.

I am hoping that there will be a disclaimer that is easy to see before one purchases this app explaining the term HD.

The initial loading screen is very busy and unnecessary. It presents you with an option for multiple languages and this menu should disappear once you have your base language set.
Also, you have to purchase at 10 bucks a piece extra videos for the system you are interested in, or another $29.99 for the full suite. For all the videos a price of $60.00 seems reasonable.

It would be nice to have a detailed listing of all the topics covered, whether posted in the App store or a more detailed table of contents from within the application.

Once you select a particular topic that is offered (you really cannot search videos on specific components) you get a nicely animated 3D video of about 1-3 minutes with a short commentary explaining the video. The search function will locate keywords in the title only of the video. So, if you have not purchased an atlas with the keyword search, you wont find what you are looking for. There is a glossary menu which does allow search for terms that does offer a 1 sentence description with associated unlabeled slides. I do like this for quick reference.

You can select still images without labels and brief explanations (some don’t have any). There really isn’t great detail in the discussion but this may be sufficient for your patients. New med students will crave for more information and you will have to look elsewhere. I did a quick search on YouTube and found many videos similar to those found in the app. However, it takes a great deal of effort on your part to download, categorize, convert and sync to your iPad if you chose this method.

Please keep in mind that this application approaches teaching about the human body differently than Visible Body and Netter’s. Where the other 2 are lacking in explanation, this app excels in teaching both student and patient complex processes in a very easy and eloquent manner. The graphics are excellent and in their own right descriptive but definitely lends itself to further discussions with an educator.

The videos are indeed very well animated and do provide a very good overview of the particular condition/system selected. The problem is that many of the topics rehash sections of previous videos so if you have a sense of deja view you are not wrong. I do wish that each topic was unique. I found several re-discussing previous information leaving little time to discuss the actual topic at hand.

The 3D human body on the main screen, in my opinion, is more of a gimmick. There are no labels, and it is somewhat simplistic. You cannot click on any structures. You can zoom a few degrees, rotate, but thats about it. What would be very helpful is if they could incorporate a mechanism by which you could link a topic or video to a highlighted section on the 3D model.

In summary, Blausen Human Atlas HD provides a convenient repository of videos for certain common scenarios of the human body, explaining them relatively well. It is better suited for patient teaching and first year medical students. I believe that when used with further detailed discussions and elaborations, this app would be a great reference tool for educators, and for their patients.
The price is very reasonable for the amount of information you get, but keep in mind you will probably have to fill in the “blanks” to elaborate on each topic.
The glossary search function is a convenient tool for quick reference, and the excellent 3D animations on their own provide an extremely powerful tool to help understand the complexities of the human body. Lastly, you have the ability to use AIRPLAY to stream your videos to an AIRPLAY compatible device!

Visible Body 3D Human Anatomy Atlas for iPad 2

The last app reviewed provides an amazing 3D look at the human body. As quoted from their website, “All anatomical content has been reviewed for accuracy by our panel of experts, including physicians and anatomists.”

As you can see, the 3D model is quite extensive with many options to highlight, hide, add and view structures. At the menu on the bottom of the screen you have an option to read definitions of any highlighted structure. The definitions are detailed and provide a very good learning tool. You can use an “Actions” menu to fade, show multiple select etc… structures and when used with the available search bunch, you can actually add structures to your currently selected view! This is a very powerful tool to see how many different structures interact with one another.

Once you select male or female from the Home screen you are presented with a tabbed section from which to chose the body system of your choosing.

There is a built in Help function which does aid in the initial learning curve of the “Actions” menu option, as well selecting structures, fading images etc. There is also a video tutorial to walk you through the apps capabilities. The app takes full advantage of the iPad2’s gestures and you can manipulate any image to suit your needs.

When you select a structure you get a breadcrumb like trail of the structure back to which system it belongs to.

The only down side is the time it takes for the app to load which is usually over 20 seconds (understandable due to the size of the application).

Visible Body for the iPad is an amazing tool to visualize the human body. The images are clear, maniputable in every sense of the word and highly detailed. It runs flawlessly on the iPad2 with no delay and I like that it it is a one time download unlike the web-based subscription. It is highly recommended as a tool to help understand body striations and their relationships to one another.

I have come to a cross road as to which application to recommend. All 3 are amazing iPad2 tools to educate students and patients alike, but all 3 have serious weaknesses.

Netter is based suitted as a reference tool like the text book, but having it on the iPad eases the frustration of carrying around a heavy textbook. Bookmarking, and adding notes electronically provides a means of keeping your reference materials at hand as well as updated. However it is quite dry and shows its age.

Human Atlas HD is far better suited for the educator in explaining function and disease process to both patients and students. The in app based purchase system has a lot to be desired both in cost and explanation. The videos do not look HD but they are also not poor quality. If they added more detail in their definitions and stopped rehashing some of their videos it would be the ultimate tool. Yes you need an internet connection, but once downloaded you can carry it wherever you like. The addition of AIRPLAY makes it a very easy too to share on your large screen TV or monitor. 3D animation provides an easy to understand medium both to educators and patients but the lack of a structured system to examine the body such as Netter and Visible Body makes it a hit and miss affair as to what videos you need to purchase.

Visible Body seems like the best tool to use, but it is lacking the detailed explainations that Human Atlas provides. It definitely improves on Netter’s Atlas in ease of visualization but not in content and detail. It is more structured than Human Atlas HD but does not include any information on disease process which one needs when educating your patients. It does provide an exhaustive collection of images in 3D which are highly maniputable and detailed in nature.

So you see, it all depends on what you need. As a medical student I’d go for Netter Atlas. As an educator I would probably need both Human Atlas HD AND Visible Body. If Visible Body added disease mechanisms then it would be the clear winner. Likewise, if Human Atlas went into more detail and was more structured, or at least provide an in app linkable medical dictionary/reference source for the topics they cover, it too would be the clear chose. So, if you are comfortable with explaining how certain diseases work then chose Visible Body, but if your topics are fully covered in the basic download of Human Atlas HD and can afford a few extra atlases to fill in the missing pieces then chose this app. Having said that, $60.00 buys you the whole Human Body. I really think their videos need to be scrubbed a bit to enhance their presentation on the iPad, but overall it works very well at the instructor to student/patient level.

Personally, as an educator I would use both Visible Body and Human Atlas HD as I need my patients to visually “see” where in the body they are affected. I would use Netter Atlas as a reference tool in an acute clinical setting if I needed more information on particular structures.

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