Smartphones to diagnose diseases

Smartphones can be more than a gadget as according to researchers they will soon be used to diagnose diseases, monitor bone density, calculate red blood cell levels and even predict if an asthma attack is imminent. With new developments in technology soon we will pass the age of telehealth clinics towards the use of a smartphone as a pocket doctor.

Smartphones already can act as pedometers, count calories, and measure heartbeats. Professor Shwetak Patel, of the University of Washington, speaking at American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston said that if you look at the camera, the flash, the microphone they all are getting better and better.

“Those sensors on the mobile phone can actually be repurposed in interesting new ways where you can use those for diagnosing certain kinds of diseases.”

According to Prof. Patel, the microphone can be used to diagnose asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder). He said: “With these enabling technologies you can manage chronic diseases outside of the clinic and with a non-invasive clinical tool.”

He is currently devising an app called HemaApp which can detect red blood cell levels simply by placing a finger over the camera and flash so that a bright beam of light shines through the skin. This can be used as a blood screening tool that can quickly spot anemia.

Smartphones can also be used to diagnose osteoporosis, a bone disorder common in the elderly, using a mobile application. Prof Patel added:

“If you think about the arm is just a rigid surface and if there is a hollowing of the bone or a reduction in density which is osteoporosis, that frequency changes. It’s like taking a pitchfork and you hitting it and it has some frequency and pitch to it and if you were to hollow it out that frequency changes.”

Such features in a smartphone can help patients in developing countries where the access to proper healthcare is still non-existence or very hard. Beth Mynatt, of Georgia Institute of Technology, has also been working on integrating smartphones and computers with healthcare.

She has helped develop apps for patients dealing with chronic conditions like diabetes or cancer, reminding them to attend appointments, or tell them which symptoms to expect on specific days after chemotherapy.

The use of smartphones to keep one’s health in check is not just convenient but can also drastically reduce many costs related to healthcare. In the end the mobile phone applications, instead of just diagnosing the patient, can also serve as a support system to help guide them through their illness to a better and healthier life.


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