5 Ways Your Smartphone Is Now a Medical Device

Four Ways Your Smartphone is Now a Medical Device

It is no secret smartphones are transforming many aspects of medical care. The “medicalized smartphone” is becoming not only a convenient accessory in modern health care, but also a full-fledged diagnostic tool that can be easily used anywhere in the world.

The practical implications of using a smartphone device to diagnose many common health conditions are huge. Most phones’ technical specifications are now so advanced they can compete with technology found in the doctor’s office.

The idea of turning a smartphone into a point-of-care diagnostic tool has become a reality. It is saving money, speeding up the assessment process, making some procedures widely available—even in developing countries—and giving patients/users more control of their own care.

Smartphones in Prenatal Care

Smartphones are now being used as portable ultrasound imaging systems and can confirm and track pregnancies. MobiSante launched the first FDA-approved ultrasound that works on smartphones. But the scope of its use is not limited to obstetrics and gynecology—a smartphone ultrasound can assess kidney disorders, guide injections, aspirations and line placements, and is also being used in pre-hospital triage.

Scientists at Columbia University have tapped into another potential use for smartphones. They have developed a low-cost smartphone accessory that can quickly and easily test for three infectious disease markers: HIV antibody, treponemal-specific antibody for syphilis, and the non-treponemal antibody for active syphilis infection.

Within 15 minutes, a smartphone can produce a reliable diagnosis based on an analysis of a small sample of blood. Since sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) present a serious risk for the unborn child, the device was piloted with pregnant women in Rwanda. These initial users were enrolled in a program that aims to prevent mother-to-child transmission of STDs.

The initial results were promising. Associate professor Samuel K. Sia and his team wrote in their article, published in Science Translational Medicine, that the work demonstrated “a full laboratory-quality immunoassay can be run on a smartphone accessory.”

Smartphone as a Stethoscope

Smartphones can now double as portable stethoscopes, gathering recordings of a person’s heartbeat and sending this information over to a doctor for further assessment. All that you need is an application that records the body’s inner sounds using the phone’s microphone. Mobile Stethoscope is one such application designed for Apple products. No actual stethoscope is required; you just need headphones or large speakers and you can hear the beat of your heart.

A team from MIT has also developed the first USB-powered mobile stethoscope, which gets its power from a smartphone and acts as a low-cost diagnostic tool. This innovation has the potential to identify respiratory disease, which is a cause of over 14 percent of deaths worldwide. Respiratory disease often goes undetected, especially in the developing world where regular doctor visits are not common. Two of the scientists behind this invention, Dan Chamberlain and Rich Fletcher, tested their mobile platform on patients at a pulmonary clinic in India.

They developed an algorithm that can automatically detect a wheezing sound. The technology proved to be accurate in 86 percent of the cases.

Checking Eyesight with a Smartphone

Many smartphone screens now have high enough resolution they have the ability to check eyesight and provide recommendations on the type of corrective lenses a person might need.

A $2 clip-on eyepiece, NETRA (produced by EyeNetra), is now available and can detect some eye problems that otherwise often remain undiagnosed. NETRA is a personalized tool that can test for farsightedness (hyperopia), nearsightedness (myopia) and misshaped eye (astigmatism), bringing the possibility of eye care to millions who otherwise might lack access to simple eye tests.

Using a cloud-based technology platform, the company also trains Indian youth living in rural areas. These individuals are then able to perform screening in their neighborhoods and provide people with affordable glasses.

Cancer and Smartphones

OScan is another detection device that attaches to a smartphone. It was designed for scanning the mouth to discover early stages of oral cancer. OScan is aimed at places where there is limited access to a dentist, since dental visits are usually where suspicious lesions in the mouth are detected.

The device was developed by a team at Stanford University and underwent testing in India, an area where oral cancer often goes unnoticed. The device can take images of the patient’s mouth and send them to an offsite expert for analysis.

Progress has also been made in using smartphones for early lung and skin cancer detection. This year, a research group from the University of Pecs in Hungary launched a free application that assesses the risk of lung cancer. High-risk users are immediately directed to the nearest health care provider, increasing the chances of a timely diagnosis.

Smartphones diagnosing Parkinson’s disease

Smartphone-based systems have now been developed that can diagnose and assess the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Gait disturbances are a prominent feature of the condition, including periods of freezing and initiation difficulties. Smartphone assessments, therefore, often focus on gait. They can help with early symptom detection as they offer continuous tracking. However, not all systems available today have been validated on the population of Parkinson’s patients.

A group of scientists from Singapore developed and validated a smartphone application SmartMOVE that both assesses gait and provides a therapy option. Their application uses the smartphone’s accelerometer and gyroscope to calculate step time and length. It also provides personalized rhythmic auditory cueing (RAC), a method of external sensory stimulation which has been widely recognized as a non-pharmacological way of improving a patient’s walking pattern.

Other smartphone applications have also focused on voice changes, tremor and slow movement (bradykinesia), three other characteristics of Parkinson’s. For instance, a finger tapping smartphone application has been developed to test for motor dysfunction. This application was shown to be comparable to conventionally used methods of assessment and might be a more convenient clinical tool.

Sources

Chamberlain D, Mofor J, Fletcher R, Kodgule R. Mobile stethoscope and signal processing algorithms for pulmonary screening and diagnostics. 2015 IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference (GHTC), 2015, 385.

Ellis R, Ng Y, Wang Y, et al. A Validated Smartphone-Based Assessment of Gait and Gait Variability in Parkinson’s Disease. Plos ONE, 2015;10(10):1-22.

Laksanasopin T, Guo T, Sia S, et al. A smartphone dongle for diagnosis of infectious diseases at the point of care. Science Translational Medicine, 2015; 7(273).

Lee C, Kang S, Hong S, Ma H, Lee U, Kim Y. A Validation Study of a Smartphone-Based Finger Tapping Application for Quantitative Assessment of Bradykinesia in Parkinson's Disease. Plos ONE ,2016;(7): 1-11.

Szanto Z, Benko I, Jakab L, Szalai G, Vereczkei A. The use of a smartphone application for fast lung cancer risk assessment. European Journal of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery, 2017.

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