Lowering the cost of healthcare and extending care to those in need has long been a societal goal. The proliferation of mobile devices in every corner of the planet could be the catalyst that is needed to bring this dream to reality.
As smartphones have advanced, medical diagnostic devices and accessories have been developed to pair and provide mobile alternatives for use by doctors in the field. In areas where tools such as microscopes are not readily available, these attachments provide the functionality needed to perform necessary laboratory work. This has been especially beneficial for doctors visiting remote disaster relief areas where hospitals are either overcrowded or not able to operate. Doctors are now able to provide point-of-care testing and quickly diagnose so treatment can begin as soon as possible.
The hardware and accessories being developed to enable the diagnosis of medical issues using smartphones have two main principles: low cost and phone agnosticism. One of the best examples of both is a microscope that costs less than $1 to produce and can clip onto almost any smartphone.
Here are some example accessories and devices that have brought complex medical analysis to consumers and doctors alike:
Using a 3D printer and a glass sphere, this accessory can convert an iPhone’s camera into a 1,000x microscope for under $1 in material costs. With the ability to see parasites, bacteria and other microorganisms in blood samples, doctors can check for the presence of malaria and other diseases. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed this product and released the 3D printer CAD file for free in hopes of worldwide adoption.
By pairing a probe with a smartphone, Mobisante has turned an ultrasound machine into a bedside tool. This means doctors can diagnose patients wherever they might be and easily travel from site to site. From OB/GYNs to orthopedic surgeons, doctors can provide better care at lower costs.
In development at Google is a contact lens that measures the amount of glucose in the tears of diabetic patients. Using LEDs to indicate when levels reach a certain threshold, patients can be alerted when their blood sugar levels become too high. Google admits that this technology might be years out, but has partnered with European drug maker Novartis to further the development and approval process.
Laboratory quality tests for HIV and Syphilis are now possible from a low-cost dongle developed at Columbia University. The attachment, powered by the headphone jack, has a total cost of $34 and is roughly the size of a smartphone. It is currently being used in Rwanda for care and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. In initial tests, 97% of patients preferred the device to conventional lab-based tests partly because of the ability to receive results for three different tests in 15 minutes from a single drop of blood. The device has the ability to test for other types of disease by swapping out sensors and there are plans for larger scale field-trials this year.
PEEK has developed a lens adapter and app for smartphones that provides an affordable and portable means to test eyes in the field. The project was started as an indiegogo campaign and surpassed the funding target. Currently in production, the device and app were designed for use by a wide group of healthcare workers with the intention of being easier to use than traditional lab tests. PEEK hopes to empower all health workers to detect avoidable blindness across the world once gaining approval from the FDA and European Union.
Cellscope has developed an attachment for parents to examine their child’s ears and send the images to a doctor for analysis of ear infection. For $79 parents can avoid a trip to the doctor’s office and get results within 2 hours. Healthcare workers in the field could use this same concept and have the images analyzed by a professional remotely.
After diagnosis, doctors are now able to leverage mobile devices to monitor treatment. Apps have been developed to track medicine intake and describe changing symptoms. Open communication between patients and doctors extends care long beyond the initial diagnosis and helps ensure patients follow through with medications and recommendations.
Health and well-being have always been important at BlueFletch. Once a year, we challenge ourselves to a friendly fitness competition hoping to provide motivation to live healthier lives. We are eagerly keeping an eye on the mobile healthcare industry (mHealth) hoping that all those in need can receive proper medical attention.