Mobile Medical Applications

The New York Times recently reported that “more human beings today have access to a cell phone than the United Nations says have access to a clean toilet.” Further reports indicate that there are an estimated 5 billion mobile phone users worldwide with three-quarters of these individuals in developing nations. Mobile broadband subscriptions are on track to surpass one billion by 2011, according to Ericsson, a provider of telecommunication and data communication systems worldwide. For healthcare providers in the developed world, smartphones and mobile devices have become increasingly common, and a reported 72 percent of physicians are utilizing smartphones personally and professionally. This global trend underpins the unprecedented potential of mobile applications to help bridge gaps in medical knowledge and address the lack of trained personnel at the point of care in underserved areas.

Illustration by Deborah Ervin

Experts note that the use of mobile applications can simplify the process of sharing clinical images and patient data for physicians consulting on a case and may be particularly helpful in rural and remote regions. To date, two mobile applications have been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to improve the quality of care provided nationwide. The first, Mobile MIM, allows physicians to examine images of patient scans on iPhones or iPads. According to William Maisel, chief scientist and deputy director for science at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, Mobile MIM “provides physicians with the ability to immediately view images and make diagnoses” without requiring that they be near a workstation. Similarly, MobiUS, a simple medical ultrasound imaging system, which has also recently received FDA approval, can be used to simplify the ultrasound process. Requiring only an ultrasound wand and gel, and a smartphone, MobiUS increases the portability, affordability, and accessibility of this type of non-invasive medical imaging and can help improve the delivery of obstetric and gynecological care.

A number of other medical applications have been developed to aid in diagnosis and provide treatment recommendations. MedRed, an organization whose mission is to make medical knowledge accessible to patients and healthcare providers at the point of care, was recently awarded a contract from the Veterans Affairs Department to pilot a software tool aimed at helping healthcare providers more easily share new and innovative treatment strategies for veterans being treated for traumatic brain injury. The system, called Balto, provides for electronic data capture and exchange, and incorporates clinical decision support technology. Balto’s graphical user interface allows the user to enter patient signs and symptoms in a point-and-click fashion, and receive real-time diagnosis and treatment recommendations based on selected clinical guidelines embedded in the system.

The Coags Uncomplicated mobile application was also developed to assist in medical diagnosis, specifically for bleeding disorders, and allows physicians to input test results and receive a list of possible diagnoses. Mobile applications are in development to help diagnose a number of other potentially fatal conditions as well, including cancer. In addition to applications created for use by physicians, some aim to improve patient awareness and the ability to monitor one’s health. According to Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), “People in communities can improve their healthcare if they just have the information to do it.” Among application created to allow patients to monitor their condition is Prostate Pal, a free iPhone application developed by urologist Dr. Ronald Yap. Designed to help men keep accurate health records and discuss symptoms with their doctors, Prostate Pal allows patients to track their fluid intake and output, and features a symptoms questionnaire from the American Urological Association. Other iPhone applications intended for consumer use, such as Wheelmap, depend heavily on user feedback and the sharing of information. Wheelmap tags places of interest on a map and shows the user the most wheelchair-accessible route. In addition, users are able to indicate how accessible locations are using a color-coding system, and can also rate the routes the application provides and suggest modifications.

The use of medical applications on cell phones, tablets, and personal computers can help to greatly improve the quality of care delivered worldwide. Clinicians and patients can utilize these innovative new tools to inform diagnosis and treatment decisions, share information about medical conditions, and track symptoms to ensure that medical knowledge is available at the point of care.

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FEMA Online Guide to Disaster Preparedness

Mobile applications that can prepare you for or provide assistance in a disaster situation:

American Red Cross: Shelter View (iPhone – Free)

Disaster Readiness (iPhone – $0.99)

Disaster Readiness (Android – $1.99)

Pocket First Aid & CPR (iPhone – $3.99)

Pocket First Aid & CPR (Android – $2.99)

Emergency Radio (iPhone – $0.99)

Scanner Radio Pro (Android – $2.99)

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