In an example of the how quickly smartphones have penetrated the traditional realms of medical education and training, a recently published article in The Surgeon (Journal of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons of Edinburgh and Ireland) reviewed the ways in which iPhones (and their Android and other smartphone brethren) can be applied in the workday of the surgeon or surgical trainee.

Not surprisingly, the authors focussed first on communication:

surgeons can be extremely busy, running between different hospitals, clinics, theatres and wards, making them notoriously difficult to contact. However, almost all surgeons have a phone in their pocket, which can be easily utilised.

The authors were quick to mention Voalte, a smartphone communication platform for hospitals, which combines “phone calls, text messaging, prioritised alarm alerts all in one device”. Also noted was the 5 megapixel camera, which could be used to ” photograph injuries or lesions” or “an open fracture at admission before applying the relevant dressings.” The authors quoted a paper by Tsai, et al [Ann Plast Surg 2004] where surgeons in a a pilot study had a 66-88% success rate in identifying gangrene, necrosis, erythema, and cellulitis using camera phone images.

Interestingly, the use of personal mobile phones for taking photos is forbidden in the British National Health Services (NHS). According to the authors, only phones “registered with the Information Commissioner as a data controller” are permitted to take and send photos. We wonder if this would apply to encrypted messaging platforms for physicians such as Doximity or DocBook which can send images privately as attachments.

The authors also mention the educational opportunities via podcasts and iTunes U as well as surgical and anatomy textbooks available as apps such as Bodybones 3D, Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards, Zollinger’s Atlas of Surgical Operations and Campbell’s Operative Orthopedics (review). For those unsure which apps to download, they graciously mention as providing reviews of surgical and other apps.

Finally, the authors recall Apple’s own case study of the iPhone in action at Mt. Sinai hospital in Toronto. There, doctors have “full access to calendars, hospital e-mail and contacts” as well as patients’ results and charts which can be accessed inside and outside hospital. They conclude by suggesting how

a dramatic change in the way that we practice both medicine and surgery really is attainable in the foreseeable future.

[source: Dala-Ali, et al.The surgeon 9 (2011) 44-48]