How FDA Approved Apps Are Changing Family Medicine

Medical applications for smartphones and tablets are so ubiquitous that it’s easy to become a victim of app overload. Here’s a look at FDA-approved apps, reference apps, and apps that FPs are “prescribing.”

Written by Helen Lipman, MA for The Journal of Family Practice July 2013 · Vol. 62, No. 07: 362-367

In April, hundreds of attendees at TEDMED, a conference on medical innovation, waited in line for a “smartphone physical.” Curated by Shiv Gaglani, a medical student and an editor at the medical technology journal Medgadget, the exam involved 10 apps that turn an ordinary smartphone into a medical device (TABLE 1).1 Among them were the AliveCor Heart Monitor (pictured at right), which produces a one-lead EKG in seconds when a patient’s fingers or chest are pressed against the electrodes embedded in the back of what is essentially a phone case2; a pulse oximeter, and an ultrasound that can capture images of the carotid arteries.1

All but one of the apps is paired with a physical component, such as an ultrasound wand or otoscope. The exception is SpiroSmart, an app that uses the phone’s built-in microphone and lip reverberations to assess lung function. Shwetak Patel, PhD, of the University of Washington, one of its developers, told JFP that the accuracy of SpiroSmart has been found to be within 5% of traditional spirometry results.3

While smartphone physicals are not likely to be integrated into family practice for some time to come, Glen Stream, MD, board chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians, predicts that integration of some of their features is not too far away. “The spirometry application is an especially good one; it addresses one of the top 5 chronic conditions that contribute to health care costs,” Dr. Stream said. The apps will be beneficial, he added, as long as they “are used in a way that contributes, to, rather than detracts from, collaboration between patients and physicians.”

For now, Dr. Stream and many of his fellow FPs use mobile devices and medical apps primarily to access reference materials, both in and out of the exam room. Some have begun “prescribing” apps to tech-savvy patients. Still others have never used a medical app, either because they prefer a desktop or laptop computer to a smartphone or tablet or because, as one FP put it, “I have a dumb phone.”

Wherever you fall on the spectrum, it’s a safe bet that you’re going to be increasingly inundated by the many manifestations of mobile health (mHealth).

Helen takes a took and provides detailed data on:

  • The components of a smartphone physical
  • Epocates, the No.1 Reference App
  • The Top 8 Medical Apps
  • The benefits of mobile textbooks
  • Smartphones as symptom trackers
  • The FDA’s Role
  • The upside and downside of patient apps
  • Who is minding the App store
  • Ways of evaluating Apps

Read Full Story or Download PDF of Full Article

About Concierge Medicine Journal

Concierge Medicine Journal (CMJ) curates breaking concierge medicine news, and editorial opinion on a wide variety of topics relevant to the practice of Concierge Medicine.

3 Responses to “How FDA Approved Apps Are Changing Family Medicine”

  1. Reblogged this on A Computer T's Blog and commented:
    Excellent read and great to hear and see technology making these types of advancements. If you know some cool apps, or gadgets, let me know


  1. The Smartphone Physical | CONCIERGE MEDICINE JOURNAL - July 21, 2013

    […] How FDA Approved Apps Are Changing Family Medicine […]

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