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Medicine goes mobile: iPhone apps take vitals, track viruses

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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best medical iphone smart phone appsOn tiny keypads and greasy touch screens, doctors, nurses, NPs and physicians assistants these days are doing a lot more than checking email and phone messages. Increasingly, health care workers are using their iPhones and other smart phones to track patient information, take vital statistics and even make clinical decisions.

Just months after the first iPhone was released, technology message boards were abuzz with discussions about how to use the new-fangled phone for medical purposes. Many professionals were anxious to start tapping away on popular programs such as Epocrates, an application that had already been around for nearly a decade via the Web and PDAs to help doctors track patient data and treatments. Today, according to the company’s Web site, about one in three U.S. physicians are using the programs on mobile devices and online. And some 1,500 other medical apps for doctors and other health care workers have followed suit. (Eager iPad-owning MDs might have to wait a bit, however, as a recent review from noted that although the new device fits in the pockets of most white lab coats, few medical apps have been optimized for the new format.)

But apps for the pros are only part of the story. The medical app marketplace extends to sick patients—and the worried well. People suffering from asthma or diabetes can download applications to track their symptoms and treatments, with AsthmaMD and Islet, respectively. Hypochondriacs can keep tabs on disease outbreaks with the HealthMap app. Patients enrolled in speech therapy at the Hollins Communications Research Institute can get an app to help them stop stuttering. And those with prescriptions for medical marijuana can even pinpoint any nearby (legal) dispensaries with the Cannabis app.

Now, go download two apps and text your doctor (or patients) in the morning.

Video: Mobile Medicine courtesy of Nature Medicine


Image courtesy of iStockphoto/billyfoto

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  1. 1. blausen 11:55 am 04/12/2010

    A key and under-reported area of mobile apps’ use is that of point of care patient education. While ePocrates is undeniably the world leader in mobile drug "reference, there is a scarcity of apps that actually help patients understand core medical concepts underlying their individual conditions and treatments. When patients are engaged in their respective medical situation, their compliance with treatment plans goes up and their anxieties go down.

    Modern apps, whether on smartphones or tablet computers (e.g. iPads), can deliver easy-to-watch and comprehend rich media content, perfect for today’s "video"-centric generation of patients. I realize it’s tooting our own horn, but our Blausen Human Atlas iPhone app ( is a perfect example, with its one to two minute 3D video animations of 150 common medical conditions and treatments. And, as the article mentions, we are busy optimizing our iPhone app for the iPad, and should have it out shortly.

    Bruce Blausen
    CEO Blausen Medical

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  2. 2. MedicalInfo 11:38 pm 04/13/2010

    MedicalInfo on the iphone is important way to optimized the patient doctor communication. Just making a list of what you wanted to ask the doctor before the visit makes the most of a limited resource: face time with your doctor.

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  3. 3. HayleyY 4:53 am 04/14/2010

    This would surely helps us to monitor our health. The most recent <a title="OS 4.0 iPhone: Seven new features announced" href="">Apple</a&gt; announcement has blown the heads of geeks and people that think some shiny new piece of plastic crap will mean you’ll never have to die, which is why individuals will be lining up around the block for the OS 4. iPhone very soon. Granted, the iPhone does have fantastic features, but nevertheless – one should never pass up the possibility to mock the foolish hysterical fads of the public.

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  4. 4. TLoarie 7:24 pm 04/16/2010

    Apps will not work by themselves. Behavior modification is a great goal but getting there is complex. Apps can play a role but not one that payers can count on. Just look at the turnover in any behavior modification program. If it was easy, we would not have medical procedures for devices like the lap band for obesity.

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  5. 5. MedicalInfo 8:13 pm 04/16/2010

    I agree that tools won’t solve all our problems around health. But empowering patients to take a more active part in their health will help.

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