The next time you go to the doctor, don't be surprised if he or she pulls out a smartphone instead of a stethoscope. Hundreds of new apps let doctors see your medical records, CT scans and even track your health habits on their phones or tablets.
One of the newest can even help save your life during a heart attack.
"The doctor can just take the webcam and point it right at the ECG and we can see it in real time," explains Dr. Lowell Satler, a cardiologist with Medstar Washington Hospital Center.
Dr. Satler partnered with AT&T to develop the app called "Code Heart." It allows doctors to send tests like an echocardiogram from hospital to hospital using the camera on their smart phone, laptop or tablet.
"It all started when the iPhones came out. Everyone was snapping pictures and sending it to everyone else and I said wow, what if we could snap a picture of an ECG and transmit it," Satler said.
Downloadable apps allow you to track glucose levels, calculate drug dosages, or even turn a phone into a portable ultrasound. Others let patients look at lab results, make appointment or refill prescriptions.
Apps help busy moms like Barbara Correira juggle work, an infant, and a 2-year-old child, by organizing medical information in the palm of her hand.
"I can bring in my iPod into the toy room, playing while we're doing things and I can do it while I'm doing that. I can access, you know, the appointments or change an appointment time or look up their health records, or anything just with a touch of my finger," Barbara said.
Correrira uses an app that tracks vaccinations, doctor's orders, and even summarizes previous appointments. While some find it extremely helpful, some watchdog groups fear violations of personal privacy.
The FDA is proposing rules for some medical apps, specifically those used with a medical device, since those pose the greatest risk for patient safety.
Some warn more needs to be done.
"We have to address those risk so that we in fact create an environment where these technologies can be used safely and they can be used securely, they can be used without risk to patient privacy and confidentiality and we're not quite there yet," according to the Center for Democracy and Technology's Deven McGraw.
McGraw worries confidential medical information could be compromised. Hospitals and health plans are required by law to protect patient privacy, but the same doesn't apply to software companies that develop apps.
"Are they selling it or are you going to be targeted for advertisements based on what kind of data you are storing in the app?" asks McGraw. "Hacking into the device might cause a problem with the device that would make it malfunction, and give you say the wrong blood glucose level, that could be quite serious for you if you are a person with diabetes."
Four out of five doctors use medical apps which makes the need to security even greater.
To minimize the risk, the makers of Barbara Correira's app minimize risk by keeping everything on a single secure platform. Nothing sensitive is actually stored on Barbara's mobile device. Doctors who use it say it works.
"I have all of the medical history, labs, imaging studies, the whole entire medical record in one place, and the value of that is because I have access to all that information it decreases the risk of me making mistakes," says Dr. Farzaneh Sabi, an OB/GYN with Kaiser Permanente. "I think the future of all this is smaller, more portable devices, so even for our physicians, being able to access this all through an iPad or being able to be mobile whether we're in the hospital whether we're in the clinic."
A new survey finds there might be time to do that, since medical apps aren't mainstream just yet. The Pew Research Center finds only seven percent of those who track their or someone else's medical information do so on a downloaded app.
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