The Evolution from ER to iPhone: Missing Links

While everyone was clamoring for cut-and-paste features and multimedia messaging (MMS) in the most recent update of the iPhone OS back in March, what was most important in the big picture was the demonstration of the already iconic consumer device as an interface to health and medical technology. Now, the device is not just for calls, games pictures and music, but a potentially important tool in capturing, analyzing and communicating critical data about your health.

Since this announcement, more medical technology companies have been working to build "an app for that". Already a flood of iPhone applications are coming to market in an attempt to leverage the capabilities of the device as support for diagnosis and care. Smartphones, already in many medical professionals' pockets as a communication device, are becoming more attractive as actual professional tools for health and medicine.

Image Source: IntelIt's a long way from complex, expensive medical device to a $99 smartphone, however. And while the iPhone and its cousins may become portable interfaces and nodes to medical data, they aren't medical devices by themselves. Device makers are well aware of the higher standard of quality, reliability and efficacy placed on medical devices as a class—they have different regulatory standards to meet. But these consumer devices are penetrating the medical world, and will continue to do so at a faster pace.

What this change will do is bring a different view of design, usability and even a different class of applications and technologies into the medical world. Proprietary ports switch to USB. Touchscreens appear on more medical devices. Internet connectivity becomes standard. Is that device Windows or Linux-based? Consumer devices may influence medical ones far more than the other way around. And for a coming generation of doctors and nurses who have grown up with mobile phones, laptops, Playstations and Kindles around them, the expectations of user experience will change significantly.

What this points to is a missing like between these two categories, one which we believe is beginning to be connected from both ends. New devices moving from the hospital to home are taking on the look, feel and function of consumer electronics already (the Intel Health Guide, pictured here, is a good early example). New players will emerge in this space, and the focus on experience design will heighten. This is already happening, and now we expect it to accelerate. The impact may be felt most strongly in both the non-hospital transitional care and home medical environments, where these two categories of medical and consumer technology come together.

We plan to follow this evolution and look more deeply at the convergence of these two areas. Check back for more information about our research in this area, or contact us to find out more about our upcoming research agenda.