Mental Floss

5 Game-Changing Mobile Health Devices

Travis McKnight
Courtesy University of Leicester
Courtesy University of Leicester / Courtesy University of Leicester

Medical gadgets that used to seem like science fiction are becoming reality thanks to innovations in mobile health care. The industry has evolved far beyond fitness trackers and health apps, and it’s now transforming personalized health care through next-gen devices such as diagnostic smart mirrors and nanobot biosensors. Mobile health tools are becoming so useful that a study by the National Institutes of Health shows that doctors who use them make accurate treatment decisions faster and more frequently, have better data management and accessibility, and have a better knowledge of disease.

Here are five game-changing mobile health devices.


Researchers from the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham investigate medical technologies developed in space, and then create uses for them here on Earth. One of their projects is a handheld camera that combines images from optical and gamma sources to diagnose tumors and cancer-causing lymph nodes. And unlike traditional gamma cameras, which are large and unwieldy instruments housed in specialized nuclear-medicine departments, this handheld hybrid device is accurate and portable enough to provide diagnoses from patients’ bedsides, intensive-care units, and surgery rooms. The mini gamma ray camera lets doctors and surgeons pinpoint the exact locations of tumors and lymph nodes for biopsies. This reduces the number of misdiagnoses and overlooked tumors, which can occur with common sentinel node biopsies. Besides using the camera for diagnostics and surgery, the device can also show images of small organs and give a visualization of real-time drug delivery.


Engineers and physicians from Johns Hopkins University's medical school have developed a handheld, battery-powered device about the size of a telephone receiver that acts as a "check-engine light for humans" by analyzing vital signs from a patient's lips and fingertip. The device, called MouthLab, is more portable, accurate and feature-filled than the standard, bulky vitals monitors that hospitals typically use. The prototype measures blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, body temperature, breathing rate, and heart rate, and it can perform a basic electrocardiogram. The results are then synced to a tablet or smartphone. In the September issue of Annals of Biomedical Engineering, the researchers say MouthLab is easy enough to use that people with limited to no training can correctly operate it, and it’s portable enough for use in ambulances, doctors’ offices, patients’ homes, and emergency rooms. Because MouthLab monitors vitals through saliva and breath, the results can also detect chemical biomarkers that show up before serious illnesses mature.   


Patients who fail to follow their prescribed medication regimen create a massive problem in the health care industry. Poor medication compliance leads to an estimated 10 to 25 percent of nursing home and hospital admissions, 30 to 50 percent of treatment failures, and an annual 125,000 preventable deaths. This is one of the problems Proteus, a digital medicines company, is trying to conquer. Proteus researchers have developed an ingestible sensor that passed FDA testing, and has shown to be useful in tracking medication adherence. Composed of copper and magnesium, the ingestible sensors are just 1 square millimeter and are embedded into a pill or other pharmaceutical. After the pill is swallowed, electrolytes in the body activate the sensors, and then transmit data about the ingestion time and drug breakdown to an adhesive patch worn on a patient’s abdomen. The patch then collects additional data about heart rate, body position, and activity levels, and sends the information to a smartphone application used by health care providers to track whether a patient has taken their medications and when they did so. 


The Tricorder from Star Trek has inspired a lot of mobile health care research, because it's a single device that can fit in a pocket and accurately diagnose what’s plaguing somebody within minutes. And researchers at the DNA Medical Institute have come fairly close to creating one. Over the course of seven years, the DMI team created a handheld medical device that can diagnose hundreds of diseases within minutes only using a single drop of blood, and the team claims the results achieve gold standard accuracy. The device works by dripping a single drop of blood—1500 times less than what’s needed for regular tests—into a disposable capsule and then filtering that through a system of nanostrips and reagents that react to what’s in the blood. The nanostrips then pass by lasers that analyze the reactions, and then the diagnosis is displayed on a Bluetooth-enabled device or the rHealth machine itself. The tool also wirelessly syncs with a body-monitoring patch that can analyze EKG, heart rate, and body temperature. NASA, the NIH, and the Gates Foundation have all put money behind this research. Moreover, Wired reports that rHealth has an app called CHAS (Comprehensive Health Assessment Unit) that can walk the user through the process of self-diagnosis. 

5. SensoDx

The diagnostics platform by SensoDx is the only device in this list that’s not handheld or smaller, but it’s impressive what the device accomplishes while being roughly the size of a coffee machine. The platform is designed to recognize biomarkers of heart disease before the disease becomes rooted in a patient, and then give a wellness scorecard that shows how the indicated disease is progressing. The goal is to allow healthcare providers to stop focusing on heart disease monitoring, and instead spend their energy on heart disease maintenance. The device uses a laboratory-on-a-chip that looks like a fancy floppy disk to collect a small sample of blood, saliva or urine. The cartridge is loaded into the analyzer machine, and then the sample interacts with reagents in the cartridge so the analyzer can use an optical fluorescent signal to make antibodies in the sample glow. Those glowing antibodies are read by an algorithm, which displays a scorecard to determine how healthy the patient is.