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Doctors see Apple's iPhone as life saver in 'the future of medicine'

While some iPhone users see their smartphones as a figurative life saver, Dr. Eric Topol put Apple's popular smartphone to such use literally on a recent flight from Washington, D.C., to San Diego.

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As Rock Center with Brian Williams details, Topol used his iPhone, in combination with an AliveCor — an iPhone-mounted sensor capable of delivering clinically accurate electrocardiograms — to measure the vital signs of a passenger experiencing severe chest pains at 30,000 feet.

When the readings indicated that the passenger was, in fact, having a heart attack, Topol recommended an urgent landing. The passenger survived after being rushed to the hospital.

According to Topol, the proliferation of apps that allow patients to measure and monitor their vital signs represents a revolution in the medical world. Devices like the iPhone, he says, will soon be able to pair with ingested or injected sensors: monitoring blood flow, sugar levels, sleep habits, heart rates, and more.

When one of these sensors picks up data of note, it will be able to contact a patient's smartphone, or even a patient's doctor in order to alert the physician and schedule an appointment. Such technology could cut down on inefficient practices such as mass screenings for things like breast cancer, with patients instead monitoring their own hormone and blood chemistry levels with smartphone-paired sensors.

The medical community is moving toward and adopting technologies such as these in fits and starts, encouraged by the utility and portability of devices such as the iPad mini, but occasionally stymied by regulatory concerns. Physicians have by some accounts, been quicker to adopt the iPad for use in their practices than they have the electronic health record systems mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

The other end of the medical future that Topol envisions, though, will be slower to come. While advancements have been made in wireless technologies and sensors, the medical community has been slower to adopt those devices than it has tablets and smartphones.

The pace of improvement in those devices continues to accelerate, though, and it may not be too far in the future when smartphone users won't have to call their doctor for an appointment, because their smartphone will have already done so for them.