5 portable medical gadgets for the busy physician

By Melissa Sammy, MDLinx
Published March 12, 2020

Key Takeaways

Although healthcare technology has its pitfalls (read: EHRs), it has undoubtedly revolutionized the medical landscape. From robotic surgery to 3-D printing, medical tech has helped physicians save countless patient lives. Despite these advancements, however, one of the challenges many physicians have faced in clinical practice is medical mobility.

Sure, you can stuff needles, alcohol wipes, and your stethoscope in your doctor’s bag, but diagnostic equipment is another matter altogether. It’s not like you can carry your ultrasound and EKG machines with you, right?

Well…actually, you can.

Thanks to advances in portable tech, the modern physician has an array of handy devices that they can conveniently carry with them on the go. Here are five that can help make your practice of medicine a little easier:

(Disclosure: The following post includes purchase recommendations and uses affiliate links to Amazon products, allowing us to receive commission for purchases. All suggestions are our own.)

Portable blood analyzers 

While they may not be as extensive or informative as traditional lab tests, portable blood testing devices allow traveling physicians to measure several blood parameters.

One such device is the NBM 200 series from OrSense. The NBM 200 is a non‐invasive blood monitor that measures and displays blood hemoglobin, hematocrit, oxygen saturation level, and pulse rate values. It’s composed of a reusable ring‐shaped sensor probe that fits on the user’s finger, and a portable desktop monitor with an LCD display that calculates and populates results. Better yet, the system is compact enough to fit in your average doctor bag.

Another great option is Abbot’s i-STAT handheld blood analyzer. According to the manufacturer:

“The i-STAT handheld operates with the advanced technology of single-use i-STAT test cartridges. Together, they create the i-STAT System—a blood analysis system that provides health care professionals with the information they need to rapidly make treatment decisions, which may lead to enhanced quality of care and improved system efficiency.”

The diagnostic tool boasts components of a full-scale lab in each cartridge, as well as a combination of biosensors and calibrants, for rapid, accurate, and reliable results.

To perform patient-side testing, you need to apply a few drops of blood into a cartridge and then insert the cartridge into the analyzer. Within minutes, you’ll have your test results. 

In a study of the accuracy and precision of the i-STAT blood analyzer, researchers compared results from the hand-held device with those from routine methods. They concluded that results from the i-STAT were “accurate, precise and correlated with acceptable methods used routinely in the laboratory.”

Portable ultrasound imaging device

Remember those gigantic ultrasound machines from residency days? Times sure have changed. Now, you can actually have one that fits in the palm of your hand.

Take the Vscan series of devices from GE Healthcare, for instance. They’re about the size of your average smartphone, weigh just under a pound (400 g), and offer color flow mapping, making portable echoscopy a piece of cake for doctors on the go. The line even offers a dual probe model!

Even better: Researchers have found that these hand-held imaging devices are safe and effective screening tools. In a systematic review of pocket-sized imaging devices, including the Vscan, they concluded the following:

“[Hand-held echocardiography (HHE)] can be used in the hands of experts and inexperienced users alike, although with a reduced diagnostic accuracy. It is a safe and effective screening tool for pathology and has greater diagnostic utility compared with physical examination for the detection of [left ventricular systolic dysfunction] and valvular pathology. HHE can confirm and alter patient management in the hospital setting. There is evidence that it can provide a useful screening tool and ‘gatekeeper function’ for [standard transthoracic echocardiography].”

Portable EKG device 

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for almost a quarter of all registered deaths. Although the US Preventive Services Task Force advises against EKG screening in patients at low risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), the diagnostic tool can be valuable for people exhibiting symptoms of a heart problem or those with known CVD who need to monitor their heart health.  

For this purpose, the AliveCor KardiaMobile Personal EKG is perhaps the best tool for the job. It’s an FDA-approved, clinical grade, pocket-sized device that transmits EKG data right to your smartphone. All a user needs to do is put their finger on the device’s pads. In just 30 seconds, it can detect atrial fibrillation, bradycardia, tachycardia, or—if all is well—normal heart rhythm. Although the KardiaMobile is meant for patient use, there’s no reason why doctors can’t use it for their patient visits.

Here’s what one doctor wrote:

“Have recommended it highly to several of my patients. Have used it for early detection of atrial fibrillation and new diagnosis in a home visit made. It’s such a convenient affordable service that even those who don’t read EKGs can have a cardiologist reading provided if so desired. Wouldn’t be without it.”

Infrared thermometer

For physicians dealing with fidgety or agitated patients, such as children or those who may have mental health disorders, infrared thermometers are a godsend. Researchers have shown that non-contact infrared thermometers can offer reliable measurements for temperature.

One of the coolest gadgets out there is Thermo, a smart, non-contact, temporal thermometer that offers quick, non-invasive testing and accurate results. Thanks to the 16 infrared sensors—which take into account the room temperature when making measurements—the process literally takes just 2 seconds. During this time, the thermometer will make over 4,000 separate temperature measurements from your temporal artery using HotSpot Sensor Technology. Once the temperature has been recorded, the device will vibrate.

Smart glucose meter

Having a smart glucose meter in your back pocket could be especially valuable for consultations with patients who have diabetes. Such devices can allow you to determine your patient’s blood sugar levels in the blink of an eye. Although hospital glucose meters are pretty compact nowadays, you can eliminate carrying the extra diagnostic tool simply by using your smartphone instead.

The FDA-approved iHeart Smart Wireless Gluco-Monitoring System, for instance, is relatively inexpensive—at $29.99 plus $0.25 per test strip—discreet, quick, and accurate. You can get 5-second results in a few easy steps. First, you need to download the accompanying product app on your smartphone and turn on the Bluetooth on the glucose meter. Next, scan the test strip bottle with your phone, remove a test strip, and insert the strip into the meter. Prick the patient’s finger and place the blood on the test strip. Within seconds, the reading will populate on the product’s LED display, and detailed results will be sent to your smartphone.

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