With iPhone, iPad Apple's Steve Jobs Changed Course of Health Care

With Steve Jobs at the helm, Apple developed the iPhone and iPad, creating a way for doctors to monitor patients remotely, e-prescribe medication and hold telehealth sessions.

Just as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs played a huge role in personal computing, music, telecommunications and consumer electronics, his inventions have left a mark in health care as well.

When we think of "m-health" and using mobile devices to manage chronic conditions, e-prescribe medications and track how fast you run, the first devices that come to mind are those that Jobs' company Apple created: the iPhone, iPad and iPod.

Jobs passed away on Oct. 5 at the age of 56 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

At the announcement of the iPhone 4S, Apple CEO Tim Cook noted that "80 percent of the top hospitals in the U.S. are now testing or piloting the iPad" for tasks such as viewing electronic health records (EHRs) and viewing radiology images.

With the iPhone 4S's 8-megapixel camera and 1080p HD video functionality, the ever-present mobile phone will be appearing in even more lab coats. The increased resolution on the iPhone 4S will also enable better use of images and video by doctors to document patient care, Gregg Malkary, founder and managing director of Spyglass Consulting Group, told eWEEK.

"I think what Steve Jobs did is he really provided us with the raw tools and imagination, and anticipated how people could utilize tools to more effectively communicate and collaborate," Malkary said. "And it just so happens that they solve very real problems in the health care industry."

Doctors are clearly embracing Jobs' inventions, according to a recent survey by Manhattan Research. Of physicians in the United States, 75 percent own an Apple device, whether it's an iPhone, iPad or iPod, the firm reports.

"Docs love all things Apple," Malkary said. "Steve Jobs has really introduced technology that has changed the way physicians conduct their daily lives."

The new iPhone 4S includes a voice-recognition feature called Siri, which could potentially allow doctors to input patient diagnoses into electronic health records. The speech-recognition capabilities of Nuance Communications offer similar functionality.

"You look at the advanced speech recognition capabilities that are being introduced through Siri, which was an acquisition by Apple, providing a totally new way to interact with the device, which is totally applicable for health care," Malkary said.

Even the ability to view text messages on an iPhone brings improved communication between doctors and patients and allows them to inform patients of abnormal lab results. Messaging tools also provide better collaboration among physicians to bridge care gaps.

"This unified communication platform provides a very cohesive way for us to manage care and to interact with patients and colleagues in a way we weren't able to do before," Malkary said. "We no longer need to play telephone tag because we have so many other modalities in which we can communicate."

Meanwhile, Jobs' introduction of the App Store allows health care IT companies to develop native apps to allow doctors to keep track of patients' vital data remotely-whether it's the amount of pills taken or the blood sugar levels of diabetics.

One app, AirStrip Cardiology for the iPhone and iPad, takes data from GE Healthcare's Muse Cardiology Information System cloud database to stream electrocardiogram (ECG) data to doctors.

On the iPad, doctors can obtain a full dashboard view of a patient's condition either in a desktop version on the tablet's Web browser or in native iOS apps. Nurse practitioner Dr. Scharmaine Lawson-Baker in New Orleans uses her iPad during daily house calls to senior and disabled patients to view patient lab results, prescribe medications and track vitals such as blood pressure and blood sugar.

Telehealth on mobile devices is now possible using the FaceTime feature on the iPhone and iPad to allow doctors and patients to conduct remote consultations over a cellular and WiFi connection, Malkary noted.

Steve Jobs revolutionized how we compute, listen to music and read content. If he was able to save lives through remote patient monitoring on iPhones and iPads, does that mean he's a Dr. Jonas Salk in addition to Thomas Edison?

That depends on whether hospital IT departments succeed in deploying smartphone and tablet applications that are consistently productive and efficient.

"Hospitals are trying to figure out how to use this," Malkary said. "We've been down this path with tablets before, but we weren't very successful."

Still, Jobs' legacy and ability to make work and personal lives easier will live on in many verticals, including health care. "His genius and vision really provided the building blocks to leverage enabling technologies to solve very real workflow issues," Malkary said. "I think we're seeing that played out right now."