Cardiologist Eric Topol says he knew medicine had reached a turning point when patients started emailing him the results of do-it-yourself electrocardiograms.
With the help of a smartphone, a software application and a portable device that reads a person's heart rhythm, anyone can get an instant EKG reading on their phone screen.
"I am getting emails from people saying, 'I'm in atrial fibrillation—what do I do?' " Dr. Topol says, referring to a type of irregular heartbeat. "Whoa! The first time I saw that in the subject line of an email, I said, the world has really changed."
Mobile apps for smartphones and tablets are changing the way doctors and patients approach health care. Many are designed for the doctors themselves, ranging from handy databases about drugs and diseases to sophisticated monitors that read a person's blood pressure, glucose levels or asthma symptoms. Others are for the patients—at their doctor's recommendation—to gather diagnostic data, for example, or simply to help coordinate care, giving patients an easy way to keep track of their conditions and treatments.
Doctors say many of the apps are useful time savers, and have the potential to make health care more efficient by speeding diagnosis, improving patient monitoring and reducing unnecessary visits to a physician or hospital. Still, the field has a way to go, doctors add, particularly when it comes to making good use of all the patient data being generated.
Here are some of the apps doctors are talking about most. Some are free; others cost several hundred dollars for a year's subscription. Those that combine an app and a wireless monitor cost from $80 to $200.