Sheryl A. Bedno, MD, MPH, MS; Darrin M. Vicsik, MBA, MHA


December 18, 2012

In This Article

The Smartphone Revolution in Healthcare

According to February 2012 data, smartphones made up almost half of the mobile phone market, up from 38% the previous year.[1,2] The average number of applications ("apps") per phone has increased from 32 to 41 from 2011 to 2012.[3] Medical or health-related apps (those marketed to both the medical professional and consumer) continue to trend upward, according to various estimates. Despite this, significant challenges remain, including security, privacy, and regulatory issues.

Smartphone Features for the Healthcare Setting

A smartphone is a cellular or mobile phone with computer-like processors, operating systems, Internet capabilities, and other built-in features or applications. Although Microsoft dominates the world of home computers, smartphone operating systems, in decreasing order of popularity, are Google's Android (68%), Apple's iOS (17%), Research in Motion's Blackberry OS (4.6%), Nokia's Symbian (4.4%), Linux (3%), and Microsoft Windows (3%).[4] Most smartphones include cameras, text messaging, MP3 players, video viewing, and a myriad of potential applications. Smartphones have high-resolution display screens, and, setting them apart from most mobile phones, many smartphones have touch screens. This latter feature may be among the most important for clinicians and patients in a healthcare setting because it may make smartphones easier and more intuitive to use.

Although most of what is done on a smartphone can be performed on a personal computer, smartphones also offer several advantages in the medical and public health arena. Smartphones are small, light, and portable. Information is available virtually anytime, as long as a Wi-Fi connection or mobile network is accessible. Smartphones have several other features that make them different from personal computers. They contain global positioning systems (GPS), which can be used to map the location of medical resources such as providers' clinics or hospitals, pharmacies, and emergency departments. In addition, most smartphones have Bluetooth capability, which allows information (such as data from a medical device) to be sent wirelessly over short distances.

Smartphones in Public Health

Little literature is available about smartphones in public health. Therefore, most of the themes presented here are applicable to any area of medicine. When possible, relevance to public health will be emphasized. Because most health-related and medical apps are marketed to health behavior changes (eg, weight loss, physical fitness, smoking cessation), the public health professional should have some degree of awareness on this topic. As smartphone applications become more developed, especially those that are evidence-based, there will be marked growth in relevant peer-review literature.

Smartphones are transforming many aspects of healthcare and public health. Authors of a recent systematic review[5] proposed a conceptual framework to classify, evaluate, and further guide mobile electronic device interventions. Apps for healthcare professionals are available for medical education, medical records, test result notification, disease monitoring, and clinical decision support systems. Apps developed for patients include appointment reminders, disease management tools, treatment programs, and medical adherence aids. General-population apps include acute care management (first aid) and very popular apps for health behavior change. More innovative uses of smartphones are those for telemedicine projects, data collection in research, and public health interventions.