Tech Transformers

Can your smartphone replace your doctor?

Can your smartphone replace your doctor?

Ever been concerned about a spot on your arm, not knowing whether it's dangerous or not, and wishing you could find out instantly? Well, there's an app for that and other tasks that have traditionally fallen to doctors.

Smartphones have penetrated the medical world and are beginning to be embraced by the profession. New apps are popping up which can diagnose patients and even allow you to speak to a doctor on demand.

Dutch start-up Skin Vision is one such company that allows you to use a Samsung handset or iPhone to take a picture of your skin, upload it to a database, then get instant answers about whether you have skin cancer or not. This year, the company recently raised 3 million euros ($3.4 million). Dick Uyttewaal, chief executive of the company said the push towards medical technology or medtech, stems from the lack of experts in some areas.

"There are not enough dermatologists to monitor these customers. From that perspective and the fact that technology is more accepted we see a clear value for skin cancer technology use," Uyttewaal told CNBC in a phone interview.

According to the CEO, as more and more pictures are uploaded, the database online will become smarter and be able to diagnose skin conditions more accurately.

Doctor on demand

In some countries such as the U.K., there are concerns that the health system is becoming overburdened. And in some emerging markets, expertise on complex diseases isn't always available.

This is where an app like Dr Now comes in, according to its founder. Dr Now allows you to speak to a doctor on demand over a video call on your smartphone. Users can pay £4.99 ($7.62) per month to have unlimited access to qualified doctors or pay £29 per consultation.

"A large proportion of people that go to the GP are the worried well. If you can find a way to stratify the likely requirements of physician time depending on the ailment, you are freeing up the capacity of GPs for people that really need them," Savvas Neophytou, co-founder and CEO of Now Healthcare Group, told CNBC.

"Given the fact that we are in an ageing society, we need more GPs and we just can't train them fast enough."

End to visits to the doctor’s?

The medtech space is booming. The total value of the global medtech market is expected to reach $477.5 billion by 2020, growing at an annual rate of 4.1 percent over the next five years, according to market research firm Evaluate.

One of the potential stumbling blocks could be the regulatory landscape. But both Uyttewaal and Neophytou said that regulators are embracing their technologies. Skin Vision has a European Union-wide approval that denotes its app as safe, while Neophytou stressed that doctors on his platform are vetted stringently and ideally trained to U.K. standards.

So what does this proliferation of medtech mean for the medical profession? Is it an end to visits to the doctor's? Not quite, the app makers say.

"No smartphone or no machine is going to replace the knowledge and skill of a good physician," Neophytou said.

"The tech will do more in complimenting rather than replacing them," Uyttewaal added.