Each year, industry giants like Apple, HTC, and Motorola spend billions of dollars finding ways to put more functionality and more processing power into their devices. While these investments are probably made with the general consumer in mind, healthcare has been an major beneficiary of these efforts. One area in which we are seeing a great deal of growth is medical peripherals for smartphones. The driving force for this trend is perhaps best summed up by Dr. Aydogan Ozcan, a UCLA researcher who is developing a lens-free microscope for devices like the iPhone, who stated in an interview,

The cell phone is an amazingly advanced instrument that now comes with 8 and 10 megapixel cameras and very nice hardware that can process like a computer. This is bringing scientists a platform that we’ve never used before. It’s very cost effective, it works everywhere, and it can be used by anyone.

Mobisante, a small device company based in Redmond, WA, developed an ultrasound probe for smartphones, MobiUS, which recently won FDA approval. As a recent review article in the New England Journal of Medicine highlights, the use of point-of-care ultrasound is rapidly expanding. And much of what the authors had to say in their review suggests that devices like MobiUS may be an increasingly common site at the bedside.

In the review, the authors point out that ultrasound has found applications in practically every field of medicine and many of these applications are at the point-of-care with non-radiologist users. In fact, they point out that

…the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality listed “use of real-time ultrasound guidance during central line insertion to prevent complications” as 1 of the 12 most highly rated patient safety practices designed to decrease medical errors.

They also highlight the FAST evaluation – a trauma evaluation in ultrasound seeks to quickly identify urgent/emergent situations like free fluid in the abdomen of pericardial effusion. However, the authors also note the potential impacts on healthcare costs. A standard ultrasound machine costs tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the fees associated with their use.

Current expectations for MobiUS are that the probe and smartphone combination will cost less than $8,000, which certainly represents a significant potential savings. And a peripheral that fits in the physicians pocket paired with a device they already carry and know how to use could further lower the barrier to adoption of this useful technology at the point-of-care.

To be clear, we’re not suggesting that the iPhone, or other smartphones for that matter, are going to replace traditional ultrasound devices. Right now, the potential of smartphone-based medical peripherals like this lies in applications at the point-of-care. So while MobiUS will probably never find its way into the hands of a cardiologist doing a formal echo, what about the rural ER physician who has a patient in the middle of the night with concern for tamponade? That is the kind of setting where an inexpensive alternative to standard ultrasound devices could thrive and why companies like Mobisante could find enormous success.