The global market for medical apps for mobile phones look set to have doubled last year to reach $84.1 million, according to market research firm Kalorama, which attributes the rise to greater use of smartphones by healthcare professionals.

In 2010 more than 50% of physicians were using a smartphone or PDA device "on a regular basis for everyday treatment activity", says the firm in its just-published Worldwide Market for Mobile Medical Apps report. In 2004 that figure was just 25%, while in 2008 it was 35%-40%.

Doctors are using smartphones now for some tasks which would formerly have been carried out on a desktop or laptop computer, according to Kalorama analyst Melissa Elder.

Many of these apps would be familiar to any white collar executive, focusing on productivity and workflow processes, data management and information/education, albeit with a healthcare slant. Typical examples include apps which serve as drug references, help manage diabetes, record exercise schedules and update health records.

Some innovative developers however are responding to doctors' increasing use of smartphones with apps that provide an innovative array of functions. For example, US firm AliveCor has developed an app (and integrated case) that allows Apple's iPhone to operate as a single-lead electrocardiogram device, while last summer it was reported that more than 3 million doctors had downloaded the iStethoscope app, which uses the iPhone's built in microphone to monitor patients' heartbeats.

"With one of the main focuses in healthcare today centred on the reduction of costs, any tool that can help medical personnel become more efficient is a boon to the industry," said Elder.

"The use of smartphones in professional healthcare is still taking shape, but some providers have seen the potential and are taking advantage of the technology," she added.