The Smartphone Physical: You Can Now Get A Good Amateur Check-Up From Your Phone

A new wave of apps and devices make it possible to check most of your vitals with just what you carry around in your pocket all day.

The Smartphone Physical: You Can Now Get A Good Amateur Check-Up From Your Phone

The consumerization of basic medical technology–from devices that take your pulse and glucose levels to gadgets that check for abnormal heart rhythms–could have profound consequences for health care. If we’re able to monitor our vital signs, we may not need doctors for check-ups. And, doctors could have more data to draw on when we do need them. Sensors might help diagnose disease and other problems earlier. And, they could give us a better idea of what activities are good for us–and which aren’t. All the information you need will be right there on your smartphone.


As a showcase of what’s already possible, the editor of Shiv Gaglani, and Nurture, a health care furniture maker, recently teamed up to develop The Smartphone Physical. Offered to visitors to TEDMED 2013, it was a 10 spot exam delivered by iPhone-connected devices. We’ve written about a few of them before, including the AliveCor iPhone EKG, the Withings blood pressure monitor, and Cellscope eardrum visualizer. Below are some others.


The EyeNetra, a plastic eyepiece clipped to the front of the screen, measures nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. It is a replacement for the standard letter chart you squint at during eye exams. “The patient looks at the LCD screen through this eyepiece and sees a few parallel lines,” explains the Smartphone Physical web site. “The patient presses the device’s arrow keys until the parallel lines just overlap. This is repeated eight times, with the parallel lines at different angles. The whole process takes less than two minutes, at which point the software app provides prescription data.

iHealth Scale

As well as mere body weight, the iHealth gives a reading for your body fat, muscle mass, lean mass, bone mass, bodily water, calorie intake, and “visceral fat rating.” You stand on it with your bare feet, and the scale displays the information on a screen, as well as sending it wirelessly to an accompanying app.

Masimo iSpO2

SpO2 is a measure of blood oxygenation. This device and app allows you to view your oxygen levels and pulse history over an extended period.

Welch Allyn iExaminer

This ophthalmic device fits on the back of the phone, allowing a physician to do a mobile eye exam–even half way up a mountain (see below). It gives a full view of the back of the eyeball, which is vital for diagnosing conditions like glaucoma, macula degeneration, and retinal detachment.


SpiroSmart Spirometer

The Spirometer analyzes lung function by measuring the volume of air you blow towards the phone. It does this with the phone microphone, which “records the exhalation and sends the audio data to a server, which calculates the exhaled flow rate by estimating models of the user’s vocal tract and the reverberation of sound around the user’s head,” according to a paper from researchers at the University of Washington.

ThinkLabs digital stethoscope

This digital stethoscope allows doctors to listen inside the body, and amplify sounds when they are unclear. It can also record sounds from the heart or lungs, so they can be listened to later.


MobiSante is a hand-held ultrasound probe useful not only for picturing infants, but also for visualizing blood vessels, muscles, and glands around the body. In the clip above, a demonstrator shows how it can be used to look inside a kidney.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.