Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Technology

A smarter way to practise

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 22 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1124
  1. Tom Nolan, general practice trainee
  1. 1King’s College Hospital, London, UK
  1. tom{at}

The popularity of smartphones now outstrips that of the personal computer, but is their use by doctors a desirable trend? Tom Nolan reports

It’s hard to get away from smartphones: the latest models are widely discussed on television and in newspapers and are generally on show through the growing number of users. Now they’re also on the wards, being used as pocket textbooks, email clients, and, of course, as mobile phones. But are they improving the standards of care and, if so, should all doctors be using them? Or are they just a useful gadget for those with an inclination towards touch screens?

There is no agreed definition of a smartphone. They can be thought of as a combination of a mobile phone, personal digital assistant (PDA), and mobile computer. Like a computer, they run on an operating system, such as Microsoft’s Windows Mobile or Google’s Android. Applications such as email clients, web browsers, and downloadable “apps” run on the operating system.

The market for apps, small self contained programmes, is huge. Revenues from apps in the first half of 2010 were estimated at $2.2bn (£1.4bn; €1.6bn),1 while in January 2011 Apple announced the ten billionth download from its app store (the honour went to Paper Glider, a game that involves flicking paper aeroplanes across a virtual office).

The market for apps aimed at doctors is also growing rapidly. Apps range from mobile reference tools such as Doctor’s Toolbag and the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine to the iStethoscope (box).

Apps that could change the world of medicine

AirStrip OB

This app allows obstetricians to view cardiotocograms when, as the company’s website generously puts it, “the demands of their day necessitate their periodic absence.” AirStripOB allows the user to view the cardiotocogram in real time or review earlier recordings and gives access to patient data such as age, parity, …

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