Your iPhone now tells you when it’s time to visit the doctor. Soon it could save you the trip. In 2013, the biggest revolution in medicine will be in the palm of your hands, as smartphones are reconfigured to turn into mini doctors’ offices and medical labs. This is the year your Android measures your blood sugar, your iPhone becomes an ECG machine and the hardware we keep in our purses and pockets diagnose everything from ear infections to cancer.
Whether this sounds like a hypochondriac’s biggest coup or science fiction come true depends on your perspective. Either way, with the focus in medicine set on increasing access and lowering costs, smartphone-based medical devices offer some tremendous advantages.
“We are on the threshold of exceptional devices that will make management better and make outcomes better,” said Dr. Kris Iyer, executive medical director of the Allen Diabetes Center at Hoag Hospital in California. Among the most promising are smartphone-based devices aimed giving patients more control over their health-care decisions — particularly in the area of self-triage.
Tricorder: With the marketing pitch “Sending Your Smartphone to Med School,” the Scanadu tricorder (yes, “Star Trek” fans, tricorder) promises to put a mini doctor’s office in the palm of everyone on the planet.
Using an electromagnetic pulse, the tricorder would measure vital statistics such as lung function, blood pressure and heart rate, as well as analyze rashes and infections and process blood, urine and saliva samples (on disposable cartridges). It would then instantly send the information to your smartphone which would then offer a diagnosis and advice (“Siri, am I dying?”) — and even book a doctor’s visit if necessary.
CEO and futurist Walter De Brouwer founded Scanadu out of the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., in 2011, after a medical episode with his son illuminated for him how little most of us know about our own health.
“The thermometer, introduced in the 1800s, was the last great tool to revolutionize home health care,” De Brouwer told reporters. “Consumers don’t have the tools they need to monitor their health and make informed decisions about when they’re actually sick.”
The company expects the tricorder to hit the markets in 2013, and it’s hardly the only tricorder in development. The San Diego-based Qualcomm Foundation is hosting a Tricorder X Prize, a $10 million global competition to make handheld, reliable health diagnoses available directly to consumers. So far more than 230 teams have applied to vie for the prize.
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