4 Ways Your Smartphone Is Now a Medical Device

Four Ways Your Smartphone is Now a Medical Device

It is no secret smartphones are now 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 to diagnose many common health conditions are huge. Most phone’s technical specifications are now so advanced, that many smartphone devices now compete with technology found in the doctor’s office.

Turning a smartphone into a point-of-care diagnostic tool has become a reality; 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 results were promising and Samuel K. Sia, the research team lead and an Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia, reported: “Our work shows that 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.

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.

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. 

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