The Doctor Will See You Now

By Jill | Medical Devices

Your smartphone remembers all your phone numbers and email addys, keeps track of your photographs, and delivers your favorite music and videos on demand. And your smart phone can be even smarter with a new generation of medtech apps that stand in for some of the diagnostic equipment previously found only in your doctor’s office. These apps are not only used by busy tech savvy Westerners but also by people in developing nations where doctors and hospitals are in short supply.

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What’s the first thing a doctor does when you go in for a physical? He pulls out his stethoscope and listens to your heartbeat. Now you can do it yourself with iStethoscope developed by researchers at Oxford University and the Universitmedy of Capetown. The app allows users to record their heartbeat with the microphone in their cellphone. The audio can be forwarded to a doctor who can track the development of conditions such as tuberculosis pericarditis. While the audio quality could use some improvement, a small clinical trial found iStethoscope was more accurate than expensive electronic stethoscopes.

For the half-billion people in the world who live with undiagnosed eye disorders, relief is on the way in the form of NETRA (Near Eye Tool for Refractive Assessment). Developed by MIT, the software app utilizes a $2 clip-on eyepiece to detect numerous vision problems including nearsightedness and farsightedness. The high-resolution smartphone screen can deliver a prescription for corrective lenses in minutes.

The computing power of the cellphone is even taking over the job of the ultrasound. The FDA recently approved MobiUS, the first ultrasound imaging system to work with a cellphone. The software can be used for numerous clinical applications including confirming and tracking pregnancies and assessing kidney disorders. The images and video collected by the phone can be emailed to doctors or transferred via Wi-Fi.

The medtech app LUCAS stands for Lensless Ultra-wide-field Cell monitoring Array platform. It uses the phone’s camera sensor to make digital holograms of cell samples, which can be analyzed to detect malaria or HIV.

LUCAS, MobiUS and iStethoscope are among dozens of apps currently under development to detect and monitor medical conditions. Digital health is a relatively new field but one that has made rapid inroads in a world where billions of people carry in their purse or pocket a miniature computer—and diagnostic device—otherwise known as a smartphone.