NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Physical by Smartphone Becoming a Real Possibility

May 6, 2013

The possibility of completing a physical exam with your doctor by hooking a variety of devices into your smartphone is closer now than ever. Indeed, with the aid of periphery devices, an average smartphone can transmit an array of vital statistics to remote doctors, says the Associated Press.

  • To measure blood pressure, an arm cuff can plug into a smartphone for a quick reading.
  • To measure a heartbeat, a user would place his or her fingers over the camera and the squiggly lines of an EKG appear on the phone's screen.
  • Other devices would enable a smartphone user to look inside a person's eardrum and the back of his or her eye, listen to his or her heartbeat, chart his or her lung function or even get a sonogram.

The idea is not to be able to self-diagnose but rather to hook into a system that connects an individual with their doctor. One company has miniaturized a glucose meter that allows users with an iPhone to check blood sugar. In an incident on an airplane in March, an on-board doctor used his phone's EKG to diagnose a distressing but not immediately dangerous irregular heartbeat of a fellow passenger.

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already approved several mobile devices and estimates that more than 500 million smartphone users worldwide will use some type of health app by 2015.
  • The AliveCor Heart Monitor snaps on like smartphone case and allows heart patients that experience palpitations to email an on-the-spot EKG to a doctor.
  • Another company is developing an otoscope, which would allow doctors to view a magnified image of an eardrum, and researchers at the University of Washington are testing a way to measure lung function in people with asthma or emphysema.

The devices may be most popular in developing countries where full-sized equipment that is more expensive is in short supply. With telemedicine already growing in popularity, the continued development of these devices will increase the capabilities for doctors to assess patients from great distances.

Source: Lauran Neergaard, "Physical by Smartphone Becoming Real Possibility," Associated Press, May 2, 2013.


Browse more articles on Health Issues