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Self-Diagnosis 2.0: Smartphone-based medical apps and tools

From detecting eye-cancer to chances of a stroke, here are some ways in which your humble smartphone is gradually becoming an adept medical examiner.

In case of medical science, prevention is always better than cure. A crucial part of that prevention is early detection and that is where we often fall behind what would be best for our health. But technology is trying to change that by bringing diagnosis capabilities to smartphones. These apps are bringing diagnosis tools to your smartphone by identifying important symptoms that often escape the naked eye.

Disclaimer: These apps and tools are only meant to aid your identification of symptoms. It is not advisable to use these for final treatment. Always visit your doctor if you suspect something wrong with your health.

Smartphone Only

SpiroSmart: This app uses the inbuilt microphone in any smartphone as a sensor in a smartphone-based spirometer to monitor chronic lung ailments such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, and chronic bronchitis. The phone is held at an arm’s length and the patient is asked to exhale. Then, the sound of the breath is translated into a flow curve that is analysed for obstructions. Another app that is quite popular for this purpose is iCare Lung capacity app.

PoopMD+: This free app reads stool colour for infants to identify biliary atresia (BA) – disorder which causes pediatric liver disease. the color of a baby’s poop can indicate that the baby has a gastrointestinal illness or a problem with the liver. Pale stools can be a sign of a rare liver disease, and earlier detection can greatly improve the outcome of this disease. BA is most common in East Asia, with an incidence of one in 5,000 live births. If left untreated BA can lead to liver failure in infants.

While it may not be the most pleasant conversation starter, it could be essential to your baby's health
While it may not be the most pleasant conversation starter, it could be essential to your baby’s health

iCare Apps: iCare Fit Studio provides 9 different apps on the play store, and their corresponding pro versions as separate apps, to form perhaps the most comprehensive mobile-only diagnostic ecosystem available. For instance, the iCare Eye Test app is a comprehensive solution for quite a number of eye tests that you can do on your own. The iCare hearing test app tests your ear’s hearing and age with different frequencies, and it could check the degree of hearing-loss in relation to the sound frequency. The free apps are quite popular with over 100k downloads and average ratings above 4 for all of them on the Play Store.

Some of the iCare apps on the Play Store
Some of the iCare apps on the Play Store

 

Retinoblastoma in kids
Retinoblastoma is a rare but aggressive form of eye cancer found almost exclusively in children. It can be very damaging to the child’s vision, and even fatal unless detected early. And an indicative way to do that is to click a picture of the child from your smartphone with the flash on. If any eye shows a white spot, it would be a good idea to visit the doctor immediately

Device based

Medical innovation is not limited to just the smartphone only options mentioned above. Along with the smartphone-only options above, here are a few that use a couple of accessories to take things one step further.

Kardia Mobile: This one is a device and app combo where a blood pressure monitor and electrocardiogram (ECG) detects hypertension and atrial fibrillation (AF) from patient’s fingertips. AliveCor’s Kardia Mobile is available for $99. You can even attach it to your smartphone with the Attachment Plate. A FDA-approved device, this wearable for your phone is already being used by a lot of people.

The Kardia Mobile device and app
The Kardia Mobile device and app

 

Cardiio Rhythm
MIT Media Lab spinout startup Cardiio has developed a mobile app that can use the camera on a smartphone to detect facial signs of heart arrhythmia, that could be indicative of a stroke. Enhancing on their already established app Cardiio, that can detect the heartbeat from facial light reflection, Cardiio Rhythm uses the same data to detect irregular heartbeat patterns of atrial fibrillation (AF). Currently, the app is being used for research only and has been validated by several academic papers. In the near future, Cardiio hopes to make the app available to consumers for early heart-arrhythmia screening.

Biomeme System: The Biomeme device is a real-time PCR thermocycler that attaches to your iPhone SE and enables you to perform DNA analysis – effectively turning your iPhone into a mobile DNA laboratory. Using the lab-free sample prep (there are tons of options available on their store depending on what you’re trying to detect), you isolate DNA from your environment, add it to a specific test cartridge and put it into the thermocycler. In less than an hour, you can determine the presence or absence of that target in your sample. It’s like a targeted copy machine for DNA or RNA. If there’s just one copy of your DNA target in your sample, the device turns it into billions of copies, which can then be detected. The iPhone is used to run the hardware and process the results.

The Biomeme setup powered by an iPhone
The Biomeme setup powered by an iPhone

These are only some examples of the hundreds of innovative medical apps and devices being developed around the world, and we have definitely missed some equally good ones. If there’s something amazing in the medical tech area that you think we haven’t talked about yet, do let us know in the comments below.

 

Arnab Mukherjee

Arnab Mukherjee

A former tech-support desk jockey, you can find this individual delving deep into all things tech, fiction and food. Calling his sense of humour merely terrible would be a much better joke than what he usually makes.