New health-care smartphone apps for doctors and patients help with everything from diagnostics and monitoring to revealing who isn't washing their hands.
Mobile apps for smartphones and tablets are changing the way doctors and patients approach health care. Many are designed for the doctors themselves, ranging from handy databases about drugs and diseases to sophisticated monitors that read a person's blood pressure, glucose levels or asthma symptoms. Others are for the patients—at their doctor's recommendation—to gather diagnostic data, for example, or simply to help coordinate care, giving patients an easy way to keep track of their conditions and treatments.
Doctors say many of the apps are useful time savers, and have the potential to make health care more efficient by speeding diagnosis, improving patient monitoring and reducing unnecessary visits to a physician or hospital. Still, the field has a way to go, doctors add, particularly when it comes to making good use of all the patient data being generated.
Here are some of the apps doctors are talking about most. Some are free; others cost several hundred dollars for a year's subscription. Those that combine an app and a wireless monitor cost from $80 to $200.
EPOCRATES One of the oldest and most established medical apps, Epocrates gives doctors basic information about drugs, the right dosing for adults and children, and warnings about harmful interactions. It has replaced many a copy of the Physician's Desk Reference.
UPTODATE This app provides reference material doctors can consult when making treatment decisions. David Bates, an internist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, says he has used it recently to look up treatment approaches for patients who have failed to respond to existing hypertension therapies, and for information on the drug combinations needed to treat a bacterial infection called H. pylori.
ISABEL Every doctor needs help reaching diagnoses. Here, doctors enter symptoms, and the app lists possible diagnoses as well as medications that could cause the symptoms.
ALIVECOR This portable heart monitor and app—one of the programs that opened Dr. Topol's eyes—runs on a patient's smartphone to produce electrocardiograms. Patients place their fingers over the monitor's sensors, which wirelessly communicate with the phone to produce the EKG.
RESOLUTIONMD Doctors can look at X-rays and other images on a smartphone or tablet when they use this app. Some doctors say the app is handy for viewing images as soon as they're available, no matter where the doctor happens to be.
ISCRUB This infection-control app collects and rapidly displays data on whether hospital staff are being scrupulous about washing their hands. Most hospitals have unofficial observers of whether doctors, nurses and other staff are following hand-hygiene guidelines. Many are not.
BREAST CANCER DIAGNOSIS GUIDE Using this app, breast-cancer patients enter and track details of their disease and treatment, from the size of the tumor to the presence or absence of estrogen receptors.
CLINICAM Increasingly, doctors are using their phones to take photos of a patient's condition—such as a rash or wound—and to upload the images to the patient's electronic medical record. One problem: That could violate health-care privacy laws if the doctor leaves the photo on his or her personal phone.
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