When 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.
If 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.