10 Totally Cool and Incredibly Useful Medical Gadgets and Apps

Neil Versel

Disclosures

May 18, 2011

In This Article

Introduction

Some doctors find new gadgets, apps, and technology fun; some find them confusing; and others want nothing to do with them. Whichever category you fall into, there's a good chance that some exciting and important new tools will someday be part of your medical life. Here are some that are changing the practice of medicine.

1) Video Consults on Your Smartphone

Using new technology, some doctors -- particularly in rural areas -- are doing video office visits. A number of companies have sprung up, such as MDLiveCare, that offer consultations via real-time video.

But mobile video is going even a step further. Faster connections over newer cellular networks -- commonly called 3G and 4G, respectively, for third-generation and fourth-generation mobile telecommunications technology (3G and 4G refer to the speed of the network the phone is connected with) -- also are enabling wider use of mobile video in healthcare.

Andrew Barbash, MD, head of the neurosciences and stroke program at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland, uses the free Google Talk application on his smartphone to conduct video consultations with patients and clinicians in the emergency department when he's on call but not physically at the hospital. "The mobile phone becomes kind of the enabler," Barbash says.

Joseph Kim, MD, MPH, curator of MedicalSmartphones.com, believes this is just the beginning. "You will see more patients communicating with doctors via telemedicine," he says.

2) Tablet Computers

Touch-screen tablet computers are creating a new class of totally cool and incredibly useful gadgets and applications that are helping to make life easier for physicians and their patients.

Let's face it, Apple's iPad has taken medicine by storm. Research firm Knowledge Networks reported in March 2011 that 27% of physicians in the United States had a tablet-style computer, or about 5 times the general public's adoption rate. That study didn't break down tablet usage by platform or model, but healthcare industry analyst Chilmark Research estimated that 22% of all physicians in the United States were using iPads at the end of 2010 (Sharma C. "mHealth in the Enterprise: Trends, Opportunities and Challenges." Chilmark Research, November 2010).

Tablets in general and the iPad in particular are more than just oversized smartphones without the phone. They have processing power to rival that of desktop computers. Some of the smaller models -- the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the BlackBerry PlayBook -- fit into the pocket of a lab coat. And they have touch screens.

"Whenever you're in a remote environment, it's much easier to draw things up than to try to explain on the phone," says Kim.

3) Speech Recognition Programs

Iltifat Husain, MD, Editor-in-Chief and founder of the iMedicalApps.com blog and a new graduate of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, is bullish on speech recognition as a breakthrough technology that makes physicians' lives easier. "I think that doesn't get enough play," he says. It's already easing the transition to electronic medical records (EMRs) by helping physicians document cases and changing medical transcriptionists into higher-skilled editors. Husain says he is looking forward to the day that Nuance Communications comes out with a version of Dragon Medical speech recognition software that supports real-time voice dictation on mobile phones.

"The beauty of real-time mobile speech recognition is that the physician no longer needs a keyboard," Husain says. He notes that one company, DrChrono, already makes an EMR specifically for the iPad that includes real-time mobile dictation.

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