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Now, Mobile Devices Learn Medicine

By IEEE Life Sciences Staff

You are most likely using apps every day on your iPad or your Android smartphone. But do you realize that a large proportion of medical professionals have embraced specialized applications in their practice?

It turns out that practicing physicians have been early adaptors of mobile devices – and not just to make phone calls. You have perhaps used your smartphone or tablet to look up symptoms, check on medication side-effects, or to find the nearest pharmacy. But your doctor may be using her phone to help decide what goes on your prescription form – and using it to send the form directly to the pharmacy. According to an article published last year[1], 80% of practicing physicians use mobile devices as part of their practice.

Medical apps, both for professionals and lay persons are readily available, and more are constantly flooding the market. Everything from highly technical programs, using external hardware, to relatively simple calendar programs are in use [2][3]. A recent article in the IEEE Pulse Magazine [4] reported on a portable ultrasound unit, a microscope, patient monitoring gear, and patient education programs – all built around or using smartphones.

Figure 1

Smartphone displaying ultrasound image [4]

But some developers are experiencing obstacles on their path to device realization. Last year in the USA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a proposed oversight approach [5] for certain mobile apps that ‘are used as an accessory to medical device already regulated by the FDA’ or which ‘transform a mobile communication device into a regulated medical device by using attachments, sensors, or other devices. Some technology firms objected about the proposed regulation. Congress listened, and a compromise has been reached, in which regulation will occur, but with public interest balancing innovation[6].

In any event it seems likely that just as mobile devices increasingly become integral to our everyday lives, they will become inseparable from all areas of medicine, and indeed, the entire spectrum of life sciences!

For Further Reading

1. “80% of Doctors Use Smartphones and Medical Apps in Everyday Medical PracticePRWeb, Oct 3, 2011.

2. Stacey Peterson, “11 Super Mobile Medical AppsInformationWeek HealthCare, July 5, 2012.

3. Abu Saleh Mohammad Mosa, Illhoi Yoo and Lincoln Sheets, “A Systematic Review of Healthcare Applications for SmartphonesBMC Medical Informatics & Decision Making, July 10, 2012.

4. “Ultrasound? Fetal Monitoring? Spectrometer? There’s an App for ThatIEEE Pulse, March/April 2012.

5. “FDA outlines oversight of mobile medical applicationsU.S. Food and Drug Administration, July 19, 2011.

6. Dina ElBoghdady, “Health-care apps for smartphones pit FDA against tech industryThe Washington Post, June 22, 2012.

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July 2012 Contributors

Pierre DuPontPierre DuPont is Staff Scientist, Cardiovascular Surgery; and Chief, Pediatric Cardiac Bioengineering, at Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA USA. Read more

Rajeev BansalRajeev Bansal received his PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard University in 1981. Since then he has taught and conducted research in the area of applied electromagnetics at the University of Connecticut. Read more

Kevin MazurekKevin Mazurek is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, working on his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering. Read more

Bradley J. HolinskiBradley J. Holinski is currently a graduate student in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Alberta. He obtained a BSc. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Albeta in 2007. Read more

Dirk G. EveraertDirk G. Everaert received his undergraduate degree in physical therapy from the University of Leuven, Belgium, in 1989. Read more

Richard B. SteinRichard B. Stein (DPhil, Physiology, Oxford University, Oxford UK, 1966) is currently a Research Professor of Physiology and Biomedical Engineering, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada and co-director of the Rehabilitation Neuroscience Group. Read more

Vivian K. MushahwarVivian K. Mushahwar received a B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, in 1991, and a Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, in 1996. Read more

Ralph Etienne-CummingsRalph Etienne-Cummings received a B.Sc. degree in physics from Lincoln University, Oxford, PA, in 1988, and M.S.E.E. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Read more