Calling Dr. Siri

By Samuel Greengard

It's ironic that we live in revolutionary times but don't always see the revolution. Case in point: how the iPhone and iPad are radically changing medicine.

Over the past few years, more than a few devices have been adapted for use with tablets and smartphones. For example, you can conduct home electrocardiograms at home using a FDA-cleared device by AliveCor, track your sleep patterns with a Lark unit and check your blood pressure level with a device from Withings.

According to a two-year study conducted by online service The Patient's Guide, the iPhone is now the No. 1 consumer device used to research medical information online. Incredibly, there has been a whopping 94 percent increase in consumer medical search using the iPhone over the past year. Altogether, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 million medical searches took place using an iPhone during the past 12 months.

Based on these trends, Jasson Gilmore, CEO and co-founder of The Patient's Guide, predicts, "By 2014, the iPhone will surpass the desktop as the primary device for health information."

What's remarkable about all this is the rapidly evolving ability to have state-of-the-art information and knowledge in hand that was recently available only to doctors and other medical professionals. What's more, organizations such as Kaiser Permanente are now offering apps that allow patients to view their medical records, order prescriptions and even make appointments via a mobile device.

I'm not sure where all this ends. Today's reference guides and HMO apps are impressive, to be sure. The ability to monitor blood pressure or blood sugar is a huge step forward.

But it's safe to say that a not-yet-invented generation of devices is likely to rock the medical world in even more profound ways. Why not monitor blood medicine levels and alert a patient when it's the optimal time to take a prescription, or have a device that does so automatically? Why not provide inexpensive devices for home blood or urine tests that work with a smartphone or tablet?

You get the idea. All of this is putting medicine and health care in the hands of consumers in a way that would have been unfathomable only a few years ago. As Gilmore puts it, "We have seen a sea change in the way consumers use mobile devices."

Dr. Siri may well be the best Rx possible.