Future Of Health: Handheld Hospital

Future Of Health: Handheld Hospital

Mobile applications, peripherals and add-ons are becoming sophisticated enough to perform tasks comparable to their hospital equivalents, approximating vital diagnosis protocols closely enough to provide people in remote areas with immediate diagnosis.

Scott Lachut, PSFK Labs
  • 2 august 2010

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This post is part of a PSFK Consulting project aimed at providing insight into the Future of Health. Handheld Hospital is one trend of fifteen that appears in our exploration of  how technology and access to information play a vital role in the ways that people will understand, manage and receive care whether that’s at home, in hospitals and clinics or in doctor’s offices.


Mobile applications, peripherals and add-ons are becoming sophisticated enough to perform tasks comparable to their hospital equivalents, at price points that are more accessible to members of emerging economies. Although they often offer only basic functionality, these devices approximate vital diagnosis protocols closely enough to provide people in remote areas with immediate diagnosis.


  • Provide Good Enough Analysis – Patients in remote areas can receive basic diagnosis without having to travel to health clinics.
  • Mobile Phone As Tool – Services can be built that augment the capabilities of basic phones enabling them to provide mobile care.
  • Anywhere Diagnosis -Temporary, ad-hoc hospitals can be set up for doctors to monitor larger groups of people who don’t have easy access to medical facilities.
  • Frequent Check-ups, Early Detection – Mobile devices can be used to monitor healthy patients and larger populations identifying and preventing pandemics by treating people before disease spreads.

Supporting Examples for Handheld Hospital

Handheld Hospital 1

Low-Cost Mobile Phone Eye Test
The Near-Eye Tool for Refractive Assessment (NETRA) project from the MIT Media Lab provides eyesight tests by utilizing the screen of a smartphone to display images while the NETRA sensors measure the optical distortion across different regions of the eye. This method eliminates the need for more expensive components found in traditional optical sensors.

Handheld Hospital 2

Lens-Less Digital Microscope Plugs Into Mobile Phones
UCLA’s Ozcan Research Group has developed a small digital microscope that can plug into a cell phone through a USB cable and perform basic medical diagnostics. This inexpensive, lightweight microscope doesn’t use a lens, but instead incorporates a light-emitting diode to illuminate the sample along with a light-sensing chip to cature images from slides. An algorithm is able to analyze data from the images, determining patient blood counts and identifying if any diseased cells or bacteria are present. This helps ensure quicker access to medication and treatment.

Handheld Hospital 3

Portable Microscopes Deliver Streaming Video To Mobile Devices
Japanese firm Scalar Corp has developed a powerful microscope called the AirMicro model A1 that can transmit video to the iPad or iPhone over wireless LAN. The microscope is equipped with a 50x lens for precise imaging, enabling users to examine skin textures and blemishes on one or more mobile devices using a proprietary mobile application.


Off-The-Shelf Camera Sees Cancer In Real-Time
Using a $400 Olympus digital camera, biomedical researchers at Rice University and the University of Texas are able to distinguish between healthy and cancerous cells with the addition of a small bundle of fiber-optic cable. The tip of the cable is placed against the inside of a patient’s cheek, which has been treated with a common fluorescent dye that causes cell nuclei to glow for better imaging. The pictures captured can then be examined on the camera’s LCD screen to detect if abnormal cells are present. In the future, software upgrades could be developed to perform this analysis automatically.

Handheld Hospital 5

Plug-In Technology For Mobile Phones Diagnoses Pneumonia
Researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia are adapting cellphones to help health workers quickly diagnose pneumonia. The team has developed a low-cost oximeter, a device that measures the oxygen content in red blood cells by tracking the absorption of red and infrared light waves as they pass through a patient’s fingertip. This can be plugged into a smartphone with special diagnostic software to analyze readings obtained from the sensor and determine a patient’s health. The next step is expanding the prototype to work with simpler cell phones.

Handheld Hospital 6

Handheld Device For Capturing Biometrics In The Field
The HIIDE is a portable biometric tool developed by the US army that can capture people’s iris, finger, and facial profiles in field environments. With 65,000 currently in use in Iraq and afghanistan, the device integrates with worldwide databases housing biometric data, facilitating the quick care and treatment of patients living in remote areas.

About PSFK’s Future Of Health Report


PSFK’s Future of Health Report details 15 trends that will impact health and wellness around the world. Simple advances such as off-the-grid energy and the introduction of gaming into healthcare service offerings sit alongside more future-forward developments such as bio-medical printing. The report includes concepts for UNICEF based on the trends provided by the world’s leading advertising and design agencies. It is our hope that this report will inspire your thinking and lead to services, applications and technologies which will allow for more available, quality healthcare.


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