The world of medicine has always benefited from advancements in technology. The introduction of smartphones has eased the whole process of clinical practice and education. Smartphones are just like portable computers which have changed the way healthcare is dispensed (1). They can help iron out small kinks in everyday practice with just a few taps of the screen.
Smartphones have become extremely user-friendly and advanced due to development of medical software applications or Applications (apps) as they are called. There are lacs of free or paid apps for the use of doctors or patients. The use of smartphone apps can be divided in four categories: Clinic related, Patient related, Use for references and Educational purposes. Let us run through each of them:
- Clinic related
There are apps which can be used to organise appointments, send reminders for follow ups, schedule meetings, calls, etc. These are highly useful in managing time, especially for doctors who have more than 1 clinic/attachments or have a very busy clinical practice. This increases efficiency and productivity as doctors can focus on the patient rather than on these logistic aspects.
Present day smartphones facilitate use of EHR (electronic health records) at the click of a button. These contain details of all the patients which can be accessed anytime and anywhere. Privacy of a patient is of utmost importance and hence, security is well taken care of.
Availability of cloud based services (e.g. Dropbox) provides large online space for storage of clinical data, patient data, images, scans, etc. One can update the data and easily share this data with other doctors etc. without physically exchanging a pen drive or CD or print outs.
Certain researches have proven that evaluating the CT scan images e.g. in cases of acute stroke can be done as accurately via smartphones as at a normal laboratory (2). This makes imaging breezy too.
There are special apps which help in easy coding and billing facilities for a clinical set up.
- Patient related
Smartphones are handy tools that have greatly eased communication between a doctor and a patient. Facilities like video-calling, e-mailing, WhatsApp etc. help the patient to be in constant and immediate contact with the doctor. In cases of emergency or at a time when the doctor is not available in person, these smartphone apps are a boon for the doctor & patient. They smooth out the process for the doctor as it cut down on travel time.
Doctors are commonly troubled for emergencies or at night when the patient calls for an urgent visit. With the advent of smartphones, even if the doctor may not be able to reach the patient, he can guide him and treat him over the phone.
There are other apps which can instantly measure ECG, Blood pressure etc. with the help of simple clicks. Doctors can also track and monitor patient’s health and rehabilitation through these mobile apps.
The electronic health records (EHR) contain patient’s detailed medical history; this helps the doctor to decide on the lab tests needed, or updates the doctor about any allergies, etc.
There are apps providing medical calculators. Using standard formulas, these apps help the doctor to quickly calculate risk scores or other common medical calculations like BMI (body mass index), BSA (body surface area), EDD (Expected Due Date using the last menstrual period date), etc. These calculators also help to calculate the correct drug dosage depending on the weight height and age of the patient.
Have you as a doctor experienced a situation when you have examined a patient, but are not sure of the diagnosis, or the complete set of a patient’s symptoms doesn’t fit in the diagnostic criteria of any particular disease? In earlier days, a doctor would have to either be disappointed with self or refer to gigantic books in the presence of the patient, risking his reputation or refer the case to a more senior physician, etc.
Today, the scenario is different. The smartphone has umpteen apps which provide an extensive database of various common and rare medical conditions. The doctor can immediately look it up and come up with a list of differential diagnosis and then confirm one at such crucial times. Similarly, there are apps which provide a list of drugs and their complete details. This helps the doctor to prescribe or change drugs with ease. Also, if a doctor is having difficulties in certain cases or needs emergency guidance in a surgery, he can contact specialists from all over the world for an expert opinion.
A smartphone is fast becoming a ‘pocket-brain’ for prompt and trouble-free access to medical information. Smartphone apps are used by doctors for educational purposes e.g. general education, speciality education or continued medical education (CME). This helps the doctor be well posted about the recent advances in the medical world (3). Some of these apps provide interactive case studies which help the doctor enhance his knowledge. There are apps for various medical journals, textbooks, etc too. For e.g. during the Ebola epidemic or swine flu epidemic, the doctors all over the world were able to immediately refer to their smartphone apps and update themselves with the most recent news.
There is no doubt that smartphones and their apps are a boon for the busy practitioner. Its judicious use is in the hands of the medical practitioners and their patients can save time, effort, as well as money. Albeit, a phone can never replace the human brain and we can never have a ‘doctor-less’ world.
Contributed by Dr. Rachita Narsaria, MD
- Ventola, C. L. (2014). Mobile Devices and Apps for Health Care Professionals: Uses and Benefits. Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 39(5), 356–364.
- Ozdalga E, Ozdalga A, Ahuja N. The smartphone in medicine: a review of current and potential use among physicians and students. J Med Internet Res. 2012;14(5):e128.
- Kiser K. 25 ways to use your smartphone. Physicians share their favorite uses and apps. Minn Med. 2011;94(4):22–29.