While we routinely write about health-related smartphone apps, we seldom find them in clinical or surgical settings. Johnson & Johnson’s Health Partner platform helps patients prepare and recovery from surgery. Insight Product Development‘s PhysIQ app monitors cardiac patients following surgery. Neither app, however, has a critical role in active clinical procedures or decision-making.

Researchers at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute reported a study in which a smartphone app “used at bedside was diagnostically superior to traditional physical examination for confirming ulnar patency before radial artery access.” The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal compared photoplethysmography readings detected by Azumio’s Instant Heart Rate 4.5.0 with an Apple iPhone 4S camera under the patient’s index finger to the conventional modified Allen test results with the same patient. Both sets test results were then compared to conventional photoplethysmography and Doppler ultrasonography of the radial and ulnar arteries. Among 438 patients in the study, the smartphone app outperformed the modified Allen test. The results were 91.8% accuracy for the app versus 81.7% for the Allen test. The final interpretation was the smartphone app was diagnostically superior to traditional bedside physical examination for confirming ulnar patency before radial artery access.

This specific use case is but one study for one test. It appears, however, that we are entering a stage where off-the-shelf mobile devices such as smartphones can actually provide better diagnostic analysis than the traditional standard methods. This should help make healthcare more effective and efficient.