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Can Smartphones Safely Join the Medical Field?

by Patrick on September 15, 2011

There is a debate going on concerning smart phones and medical equipment. Lots of developers are making apps for phones that can interact with medical equipment, and many people are calling for strict certification processes to eliminate potentially catastrophic errors. There are apps to monitor a patient’s heart and apps that connect to insulin pumps, but with added convenience comes added responsibility.

Many of us remember the article about wirelessly hacking an insulin pump and the safety concerns that come about when technology advances faster than regulations regarding it. Wireless devices like phones will present the same weaknesses and could actually present more since they are capable of so much. Is it worth taking the risk of a wireless invasion so that you can change settings on a medical device from further away? Should phones be limited to just monitoring medical displays rather than controlling the devices? And does broadcasting the displays to handsets present risks?

There are numerous issues with phones doing the same job as dedicated devices. Battery life and hardware speeds vary widely among phones even on the same operating system. Thorough checks may have to be made every time the new version of the application is released, and every time the new version of the phone operating system is released. If an OS restricts vital resources, a new system that a hospital or patient has grown to rely on could be shut down.

Do the benefits of using a custom, updateable phone application outweigh the time and expense testing and safeguarding them?  What does doctoring from a distance do to doctor-patient interaction?

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