iPhone starting to replace the stethoscope

Peter Bentley – creator of the iPhone stethoscope app
Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

The stethoscope – medical icon, lifesaver and doctor’s best friend – is disappearing from hospitals across the world as physicians increasingly use their smartphones to monitor patients’ heartbeats.

More than 3 million doctors have downloaded a 59p application – invented by Peter Bentley, a researcher from University College London – which turns an Apple iPhone into a stethoscope.

Last week, Bentley introduced a free version of the app, which is being downloaded by more than 500 users a day. Experts say the software, a major advance in medical technology, has saved lives and enabled doctors in remote areas to access specialist expertise.

“Everybody is very excited about the potential of the adoption of mobile phone technology into the medical workplace, and rightly so,” said Bentley, who initially developed the app “as a fun toy”.

“Smartphones are incredibly powerful devices packed full of sensors, cameras, high-quality microphones with amazing displays,” he said. “They are capable of saving lives, saving money and improving healthcare in a dramatic fashion – and we carry these massively powerful computers in our pockets.”

Bentley’s iStethoscope application is not the only mobile phone programme lightening doctors’ bags and transforming their practices: there are nearly 6,000 applications related to health in the Apple App Store. The uptake has been rapid. In late 2009, two-thirds of doctors and 42% of the public were using smartphones – in effect inexpensive handheld computers – for personal and professional reasons. More than 80% of doctors said they expected to own a smartphone by 2012.

The trend looks likely to gain pace as younger doctors enter the workplace. Some medical schools issue students with smartphones. In America, Georgetown University, the University of Louisville and Ohio State University are among those requiring undergraduates to use one.

However, experts say they are being prevented from exploiting the technology’s opportunities. Bentley says that he is unable to launch a new range of applications because of out-of-date regulations.

It’s much easier to develop technology than it is to get permission to use it,” he said. “I could create a mobile ultrasound scanner and an application to measure the oxygen content in blood, but the regulations stop me. We’re not allowed to turn the phone itself into a medical device, and what that precisely means is currently a grey area in terms of regulation. That’s the only reason we’re not seeing a flood of these devices yet.”

Bravo. Maybe it’s time for non-medical geeks to join the medical types in their efforts to nudge the Hippocratic Establishment into the digital age?

It ain’t ever easy. Progress in and of itself isn’t any more a good reason for medical infrastructure to update than it appears to be for most governments, politicians and pundits. Saving lives, easing costs, aiding the pursuit of a healthful life are all suspicious motives.

To some.

Don’t miss your chance at serious delicacies!

Visitors to the festival enjoying a meal
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

In a remote Serbian mountain village, they’re cooking up delicacies to make your mouth water – or your stomach churn.

At the seventh annual World Testicle Cooking Championship, visitors watch – and sometimes taste – as teams of chefs cook up bull, boar, camel, ostrich and even kangaroo testicles.

This festival is all about fun, food and bravery,” said Ljubomir Erovic, the Serbian chef and testicles gourmand specialist who organizes the bizarre cooking festival and has published a testicle cookery book.

The food – politely called “white kidneys” in Serbian – is believed to be rich in testosterone. In the Balkans, it is considered to help men’s libido.

“The bulls’ testicles are the best, goulash style,” said last year’s winner Zoltan Levai, stirring a metal pot heated by a wood fire and filled with vegetables and large testicles that he said were provided from a state-run slaughter house.

The festival – which includes dishes like testicle pizza and testicles in bechamel sauce flavored with a variety of herbs found in the region.

Truly not to be missed. I think.

Scientist offers bomb chemicals from handbag at security inquest!

An inquest into the case of a Ministry of Defence scientist killed in a top-secret bomb test was stunned when an American witness produced examples of the chemicals that caused the fatal blast from her handbag.

Sitting just feet away from Terry Jupp’s shocked relatives, the explosives expert showed the court small vials containing small quantities of the bomb-making materials in unmixed form.

Mr Jupp was engulfed in a “fireball” that left him with 80 per cent burns, leading to his death in hospital, when he mixed the substances together during joint US-UK trials to replicate the homemade bombs used by terrorists.

The coroner, Dr Peter Dean, admitted the witness’s actions had caused a “rapid reaction” among lawyers present at the hearing in Southend, who included the Prime Minister’s brother, Alex Cameron, QC.

Summing up the four-week case to jurors on Friday, the coroner said: “We will certainly remember her production of vials of chemicals from her handbag.

Associates applauded his foresight at including spare unsoiled knickers in his briefcase.

Visitors to the court are checked by metal detectors and have their bags searched by security guards, and it is not clear whether the witness had permission to bring the chemicals – known only as Substance A, B and C for national security reasons – into court…

Har! Casual assumptions made by national lab scientists are notorious. I’ve joked before about a tech I worked with mentioning that he’d left his 6-pack of sodas next to plastic containers in the refrigerator from some religious project.

The fridge was marked “Trinity Site”. Google it if you don’t get my smile. And why I suggested he move his soft drinks.

Study identifies oil sands polluting Alberta river system

Oil sands operations are polluting the Athabasca River system, researchers say, contradicting the Alberta government’s assertions that toxins in the watershed are naturally occurring.

In a study likely to add more fuel to the environmental battle over oil sands development, researchers said mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium are among the toxins being released into the Athabasca, which flows north through the region’s major oil sands operations.

The findings of the study, co-authored by University of Alberta biological scientists Erin Kelly and David Schindler, should be a signal for the Alberta government to finally consider limits on oil sands development, Schindler said.

“I really think it’s time to cut down the expansion until some of those problems and how to reduce them are solved,” he said in an interview.

The environmental impact of developing the oil sands, the biggest reserves of crude outside the Middle East, has been a topic of snowballing controversy in Canada and around the world. The Alberta government has devoted millions of dollars to defend the multibillion-dollar industry.

The latest research is published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A government-supported agency, called the Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program, has published material as recently as 2009 saying that water quality in the Athabasca River was similar now to conditions before oil sands development. But Schindler said the RAMP monitoring and findings “violate every rule” of long-term study and his research showed the opposite.

Looking in from the outside, knowing something of comparable questions of geology, I have to wonder about the construction of the tests instituted by the government. I question why the insurgent study is after the fact; but, that often is grounded in questions ranging from finances to time constraints. The Alberta government had beaucoup time to produce definitive studies that would have/could have passed peer review. Obviously they haven’t.

Too often the quotient of short-term economic gain influences voters as thoroughly as it does politicians. I can’t hazard an opinion of comparative testing procedures and results – this morning; but, unless Canadians have bred some new species of human being that wants badly to be a politician in North America, questions take precedence over answers received, so far.

BP’s toxic spill unreported, ongoing, while community poisoned

TEXAS CITY, Texas — While the world was focused on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a BP refinery here released huge amounts of toxic chemicals into the air that went unnoticed by residents until many saw their children come down with respiratory problems.

For 40 days after a piece of equipment critical to the refinery’s operation broke down, a total of 538,000 pounds of toxic chemicals, including the carcinogen benzene, poured out of the refinery.

Rather than taking the costly step of shutting down the refinery to make repairs, the engineers at the plant diverted gases to a smokestack and tried to burn them off, but hundreds of thousands of pounds still escaped into the air, according to state environmental officials.

Neither the state nor the oil company informed neighbors or local officials about the pollutants until two weeks after the release ended, and angry residents of Texas City have signed up in droves to join a $10 billion class-action lawsuit against BP. The state attorney general, Greg Abbott, has also sued the company, seeking fines of about $600,000.

BP maintains three air monitors along the fence around the plant and two in the surrounding community, and they did not show a rise in pollution during April and May, the company said. “BP does not believe there is any basis to pay claims in connection with this event,” said Michael Marr, a spokesman for the company.

But scores of Texas City residents said they experienced respiratory problems this spring, and environmentalists said the release of toxic gases ranked as one of the largest in the state’s history…

Officials in Texas City said they were not informed of the scale of the release until it was over. BP said it met the requirements of state law by informing state officials of the release in writing on April 7, then filing a final report on June 4, after the equipment was fixed.

Though one official of the state of Texas has filed suit, once, again, against BP, let’s face it, any politicians who should care more about the health and safety of their constituents is swayed first of all by the economic clout of BP.

Why else was there no early notification of the surrounding community? Is it the usual practice of Texas politicians just to sit back – take BP’s word for potential harm resulting from the toxic release?

Yes, that last is a rhetorical question. I think you can figure out the answer – but, RTFA, anyway. One more nail in the coffin of Texas City residents.