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Physical by smartphone becoming real possibility

AP/ SMH | May 3, 2013
The idea isn't to self-diagnose with Dr. iPhone but companies are rapidly developing miniature medical devices that tap the power of the ubiquitous smartphone in hopes of changing how people monitor their own health.

About 300 doctors, health policy wonks and others attending that high-tech meeting received what was dubbed a "smartphone physical" from medical students using 10 of the latest devices. The Food and Drug Administration has approved a number of the gadgets for sale; others are experimental prototypes gathered for the demonstration by Nurture by Steelcase and the doctor website Medgadget.

"It's going to be our generation that adopts most of these," noted Shiv Gaglani, a Johns Hopkins medical student who helped organize the project.

The FDA cites industry estimates that 500 million smartphone users worldwide will use some type of health app by 2015. Today's apps mostly are educational tools, digital health diaries or reminders and fitness sensors. The new trend is toward more sophisticated medical apps, some that work with plug-in devices, that provide information a doctor might find useful.

Some of the devices sell by prescription or on drugstore shelves, while others like the diabetes monitor and blood pressure cuff have entered a new venue for medicine _ the Apple store.

Simplicity is part of the idea. Take the AliveCor Heart Monitor. Snap it on like a smartphone case, place fingers on the sensors _ no sticky wires on the chest _ and you've got an EKG recording in 30 seconds. The FDA approved sale of the $199 device in December for doctors to use in exams or to prescribe for patients to use on themselves.

It doesn't measure as much as a full-scale EKG, and patients must email the recording to a doctor for analysis. But heart patients frequently experience palpitations that have ended by the time they reach a cardiologist _ and emailing an on-the-spot EKG reading might help the doctor figure out what happened, said AliveCor co-founder Dr. Dave Albert.

"This is a brand-new technology. We're trying to understand how people will use it," said Albert, whose company also is seeking FDA permission to sell the device over the counter.

Welch Allyn's iExaminer taps the smartphone's camera to photograph deep inside the eye _ the orange view of the retina filling the phone's screen.

Similarly, CellScope Inc. is developing an otoscope _ that magnifier doctors use to peer into the ear _ that can snap a photo of the eardrum. It's not for sale yet, but might parents one day email that kind of picture to the pediatrician before deciding whether Johnny needs an office visit?

"It was great to see it on the phone, rather than the pinpoints we get to see" through a traditional scope, said Dr. Bertina Yen, a Los Angeles internist-turned-health IT specialist. She turned the tables during her smartphone physical, taking over some of the equipment to try it out herself.

 

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