iPhone, iPad becoming essential health care tools

top_horizWhen you edit a consumer technology website, it’s often as easy to get jaded about advances in technology as it is to get excited by them. Will yet another digital camera change the world? Does it matter that netbooks now account for nearly 25% of all laptop sales? As I’m fond of saying, it ain’t life and death.

But now and then, you’re reminded that advances in technology do contain the power to change the world, and sometimes these changes do mean the difference between life and death. The big surprise is when these advances are ushered in not by a think tank or a PhD student working at MIT or a Fortune 500 Big Pharma Co, but by an inexpensive consumer gadget put to use in new and creative ways.

One such example is ThinkLabs’ Stehoscope app for the iPhone. When used in conjunction with their Digital Stethoscope, this app can display what the user is hearing. It lets a healthcare worker record wave-forms and spectrograms in real-time, and then compare these results to a database of matching medical conditions. If that isn’t sufficient for an accurate interpretation or diagnosis, the recording can be emailed to a colleage along with notes to get a second opinion.

A similar app is being launched by Nuance, the makers of the popular Dragon family of voice recognition software packages. Dragon Medical Mobile Recorder is mobile voice capture app that lets physicians (or anyone else) record their thoughts and have the transcription presented to them immediately for editing, approval and of course forwarding to an email recipient.

Nuance estimates that by the end of 2011, 81% of physicians in the U.S. will be using smartphones. Currently the BlackBerry is the phone of choice with this community, but the iPhone is gaining fast and could easily become dominant – largely based on the appeal of medical apps.

Human AtlasIf the iPhone is a good companion for healthcare professionals, the iPad is going to be a great companion. Its larger screen opens up a whole new world of imaging options while its built-in Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity make it the perfect clipboard replacement. One of our readers wrote in to let us know that the nursing profession is already benefiting from the iPad. Teresa Jackson just posted “20 Incredible iPad Apps That Will Revolutionize Nursing” to her blog and it includes such titles as Blausen Human Atlas – a full visual field guide to human anatomy, which will not only help as a quick reference but could also be used to explain medical conditions to patients in a way that goes beyond mere words.

The medical app world is exploding. According to Scientific American, there are over 1,500 apps just for health care professionals alone (patients have access to these and many more geared just for them). But along with this enormous growth comes concern about quality and accountability. Recently the FDA decided to look into the question of whether medical apps should face some sort of regulation or be left to develop unfettered. There have already been several instances where apps have demonstrated the potential to negatively influence patient outcomes:

Because of a programming error, allergy information for a patient failed to display on a clinical decision support app […] In another instance, results of a nuclear medicine study were saved in the wrong patient’s file when accessed using health care management software.

Despite these stumbling blocks, the future of medical apps for the iPhone, iPad and a host of other connected devices promises to move the healthcare field in a positive direction.

So the next time you see someone wasting time with an iBeer or Lightsaber app and start to despair that these new gadgets are responsible for the dumbing-down of an entire generation, remember that the same device might be used to save someone’s life.



  1. Pingback: 心音の波形を表示するiPhoneアプリ「Thinklabs Stethoscope」 | 世界の医療ニュース メディカルメディア
  2. Phil

    You have sited a very important conundrum the fact that the human physiology has infinite variables within in its own scope. Mix that with outside influences, diverse diseases, medications, allergens, and a plethora of other factors. Doctors who train seven years to before start to practice must also study constantly to keep pace with new discoveries.

    How is it that some small two-bit company or programmer with no medical background is able to create an application for any platform a reliable medical application? Who has no backing from the practitioners of medical sciences, or from the official ranks of the hallowed halls of medical academia? Such as Harvard, U of Pen, Johns Hopkins, U of Cal-San Francisco, Duke, Stanford, McGill, HEC, Dalhousie, McMaster, Queens, and the list goes on.

    So far, the current iCrap is more suitable for textbook (iPad), libraries of literature, the sciences, and schematically rendered drawings with full zoom detailing it has definite potential. Oh yes and games, chess anyone?

    As for Blackberry or iPhone (iPad) new technology can easily steel away potential customers killing any prognostications of what devise(s) may or may not attract a particular group. I see great flaws in both platforms. Current technologies being used are sound, tested rigorously and then approved by government(s) and the medical community before seeing the light of day.

    People should take a very jaundiced eye when an application such as health wants you to believe in its’ diagnosis. Then again, I have stated many times, “the Tree of Life is self pruning.”


  3. Wellescent Health Forums

    We can only hope that the regulation applied to the market does not result in proprietary platforms and accreditation processes that prohibit smaller players from becoming involved. Those developing such applications are the ones who will drive much of the innovation from which the sector is currently benefiting. While current technologies are very much hardened, they have also been slow to advance. For new technologies to aid the delivery of medicine we need a compromise between the two extremes in place now.


  4. Bruce Blausen

    Agree with your view on the iPad’s potential to take the iPhone’s already major impact on healthcare apps to a much higher level. To date we’ve had great success with our Human Atlas iPhone app (here’s a demo… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Nj3b6Vk-hs), but believe our currently under development version optimized for the iPad will be a dramatically more powerful and effective point of care patient education resource. With the larger screen size and HD resolution, our award-winning 3D animations are stunning in their presentation. Patients will be transfixed as they see their conditions and treatments in a whole new light, effectively “coming to life” right in their caregivers’ hands.
    Bruce Blausen CEO
    Blausen Medical


  5. ceo iatrocom

    Press Release

    IatroCom just released a fun and useful medical app named STATworkUP.

    It is a Clinical Decision Support Computing tool for the Apple iPhone or iPod Touch and (iPad too.)

    STATworkUP is now listed under “What’s Hot” in the iTunes Medical App section!

    It is also listed as one of the “Most Popular Medical iPhone Apps” on Twitter.

    The software does Differential Diagnosis and correlates relevant Symptoms, Studies and Treatments.

    It also quickly links to expert web sites.

    STATworkUP is designed to help clinicians with the diagnostic thought process and to provide them with evidence-based facts about problems and disorders.

    Best for: Clinicians who want to broaden their differentials, residents and medical students who need a quick reference for obscure tests.

    No subscription required: Free database updates!

    We hope you enjoy it.

    Please inform your colleagues about it on your web site.

    Thank you!

    CEO, Director, Founder, IatroCom