Experts say version 2.0 of the popular iPhone’s firmware, which is due to be launched in June this year, could turn the device into an indispensable medical tool in hospitals.
Doctors are quite optimistic about the new version of the mobile phone as it could serve as an electronic alternative for the old-fashioned clipboard and X-ray light box. According to Adam Flanders, director of informatics at Thomas Jefferson University and an expert in medical imaging, “If you could use the gesture-based way of manipulating images on the iPhone and actually manipulate a stack of X-rays or CT scans, that would be a huge selling point.” To date, such a feature has remained an impossible dream due to most smart phones’ inability to handle the sophisticated compression techniques used on large medical images. Also, most phones lack the requisite memory and image-processing capabilities. But the iPhone’s reasonably powerful Samsung ARM processor, 8 GB or 16 GB of flash memory and intuitive, visual interface seem well suited to medical imagery. Hospitals are also wary of beaming medical images all over the place via WiFi because of security concerns. But, the iPhone’s new business-friendly security features may ease privacy fears, according to physicians, and could even turn the device into an indispensable medical tool if hospitals approve the device. Earlier this month, Apple released a software development kit (SDK) for programmers to create native iPhone applications. The Apple team also announced a new partnership with Epocrates, the developer of a massive drug-interaction database for mobile devices. The company said it is now working directly with Apple on a new iPhone-native version. When released, it will give doctors the ability to view drug information regardless of their location or the availability of a WiFi. Physicians, particularly radiologists, are also excited about the prospect of accessing medical images directly on their iPhones. According to Flanders, who regularly looks for ways to apply new imaging techniques to the radiology field, he’s already seen a number of “neat tricks” with compression in recent years that can deliver hundreds of images on a handheld device, with a high resolution as well as the ability to manipulate those images. “Such applications might actually work better through a browser-based interface,” he said. “The real beauty of the iPhone is that it offers a richer 3-D experience and more memory,” said Michelle Snyder, vice president of marketing and subscription services at Epocrates.