Mobile health apps are taking off in a big way. Juniper Research recently estimated that 44 million mobile health apps were downloaded in 2011. Smartphones already offer two top-notch qualities that designers often seek to achieve in any medical device: affordability and portability. One of the biggest advantages of targeting smartphones is that many people already own them — about 44 percent of all U.S. mobile subscribers, according to Nielsen. With this tool already in so many people's hands, what remains to be determined are the capabilities of software to transform this tool into a full-fledged medical device with legitimate benefits.

Many have focused on this technology's potential to serve as a remote patient monitoring solution. Three million patients will be monitored by mobile networks by 2016, according to a recent study by Juniper Research. The study also finds that cardiac monitoring is currently leading the pack, but the management of diabetes and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), as well as other chronic diseases, are also major areas of focus for this technology.

Intel and universities around the nation are taking on the challenge of developing relevant mobile health apps. Mobile devices have even been transformed into portable ultrasound therapy devices for pain relief. Meanwhile, the FDA is still working on clarifying what regulations could be attached to mobile medical apps. While the future of this technology may be fuzzy, we don't need a study to confirm that mobile health apps will continue to rise in popularity — which is a good thing for patients and doctors alike.