The medical use of electricity dates back at least to the ancient Greeks, who used shocks from electric fish to treat gout. Modern medical researchers are more cautious about applying electrical energy to patients' bodies. Nevertheless, one electrically based technology, called iontophoresis, is growing in popularity, particularly among anesthesiologists and physical therapists. Increasing interest in the technique, which uses electric current to deliver drugs through the skin, has given rise to several companies that offer iontophoresis equipment. Yet some observers express concern that the number of applications may be increasing faster than clinical trials to test their efficacy and safety.

Iontophoresis resembles drug patch technology in that it is designed to force substances such as medications and anesthetics through the skin and into the body. It does so by applying a mild electric current to an ionic solution of the substance to be delivered. The technique relies on electrical repulsion:...

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