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3 iPhone and iPad Medical Devices We’d Like to See


In the first part of this series we discussed cool new iPhone and iPad medical devices. These clever devices use simple plug-in peripherals to turn an iPhone or iPad into a full-fledged medical device. Since they can make accessing and understanding personal health data easier for patients, as you might imagine there’s a lot of interest in what their future holds. That’s why for this article we tried to get a little visionary, too. Read more to learn about three iOS devices we’d like to see come to market soon.

Disease Risk Calculator

The device: Proteins found in blood can be used as biomarkers to diagnose diseases from type 2 diabetes, to cancer, to HIV. Using tests that detect specific biomarkers of diseases long before clinical symptoms arise can lead to earlier treatment, saving lives. The tests can also be used to assess risk of disease, by calculating not just the presence of biomarkers but also their concentrations. Information on disease risk can help people correct course during early stages rather than allowing the condition to worsen unchecked.

The benefits: Based on social norms theory, showing data about some lifestyle diseases such as diabetes –alongside what healthy protein levels should be–could go beyond just informing patients about their health. For example, if a patient who does not yet know he is prediabetic sees his biomarker data displayed alongside average data from a healthy individual, this visual could serve as an “intervention” to correct his mistaken assumption that he’s healthy.

An interface that told a patient how his score had changed over time could help him visualize progress. It could also track patient activities that can reduce diabetes risk–such as regular exercise and a healthy diet–alongside progress to show the patient visually that the steps he’s taking does have consequences.


The device: Studies have found that measuring breathing difficulty before and after taking medicines for emphysema or chronic bronchitis can help people minimize shortness of breath. Often even after a patient has taken a medicine that does increase airflow to the lungs, their shortness of breath continues. But if a patient sees the measurement of her inspiratory flow–her in-breath–before she takes a medicine, the likelihood she’ll actually start breathing easier after she takes the medicine will be increased.

Today, the kinds of spirometers owned by patients are cheap, simple devices, so there could be enormous value in an app that could record a patient’s breathing performance over time and even attach notes like “pre-inhaler results” and “post-inhaler results.” Spirometers in medical offices monitor this at present, but patient-owned devices do not. Tracking the results over time is extremely useful for both patients and doctors.

The benefits: 3.5 percent of ER visits each year are primarily because of shortness of breath, so giving people with the right medicine a simple way to better control the symptoms of the disease on their own can help people feel more in control of their disease and reduce load and cost related to ER visits.


The device: Interpreting the electrical activity of the heart over time is useful. It can tell you the rate and regularity of your heartbeats, as well as the size and position of your heart chambers. The presence of heart damage, as well as the impact of drugs or heart rate regulation devices such as pacemakers, can also be detected from an ECG. We wrote about a minimalist iPhone version of the ECG last week, but this one’s the real thing. We anticipate an app will be able to not only take readings from ten electrodes attached to the body, as is standard with traditional standalone ECGs today, but will also be able to alert users to possible heart health problems.

The benefits: If used by caregivers this device can help automate recognition of possible problems, rather than relying solely on the human eye to detect potential regularities. This can reduce errors of ineptitude discussed by Dr. Atul Gawande, who proposed making checklists for doctors the standard to reduce the accidental oversights that plague medicine today. Though a layperson wouldn’t necessarily be qualified to know how to correctly position the electrodes to ensure a proper reading, the app could also help walk the caregiver or nurse through the procedure as a safety check to standard training, leading to lower risk of error. In addition, doctors could take this device to the field.

Since we already predicted exponential growth of this area of health innovation in the last post, we won’t do it again. We’d welcome comments below–particularly from experts in both biomedical technology and in app development–on the feasibility and future of these devices. Thanks for reading!

Thanks to Russel Pryor for the great drawings, and to Dave Wolpert, Charlie Matlack and David Mendosa for their insight on this piece. For more on new media medicine, check out MIT’s New Media Medicine Lab's projects. You should also follow the conversation on helping patients play a more active role in their own health as it unfolds at

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Katie Matlack

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Katie Matlack is a contributor to Software Advice.

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