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Medical aid from your mobile

For many of us, e-mail, video games and photo sharing are available at the touch of a finger, thanks to smartphones.

But attach a special case and that same phone can produce an electrocardiogram (ECG) from the electrical impulses in your hand and send it to a doctor.

"It's a neat little device," says Mr E. B. Fox, who uses a heart monitor and app from AliveCor to keep track of his arrhythmia (a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat).

Mr Fox, 57, who is from the US state of North Carolina, said he has been using the device since October. If he thinks there is a problem, he can e-mail a reading to his doctor for an evaluation.

He told AFP: "I have no doubt it's saved me one doctor's visit at least."

The heart monitor is just one example of progress in the booming mobile health - or mHealth - industry, which is changing both the way doctors practise medicine and the way patients handle medical decisions.

HEALTH CARE

"Mobile apps are one of many mHealth tools that are helping to engage consumers and patients in their own health care," said Mr David Collins, senior director of the mobile division at the non-profit Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

Doctors and developers hope that these apps and devices will lead to lower health-care costs.

To find out more, the Scripps Translational Science Institute in California is in the middle of a study examining the relationship between medical costs and mobile medical devices, specifically in patients with chronic conditions.

Participants receive an iPhone and either a blood pressure monitor, heart monitor or glucose meter to track their high blood pressure, arrhythmia, or diabetes for six months.