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Smartphone Otoscope: Diagnosing Middle Ear Disease at Home?

Posted Jul 19 2012 12:00am

Smartphones are continuing to exert a broad impact on healthcare delivery. The latest twist that I have come across is the smartphone otoscope for parents who want assistance in the diagnosis of possible ear infections in their children (see: Now Your Smartphone Can Be Used To Diagnose Ear Infections At Home ). Below is an excerpt from the article:

Using your smartphone to check for ear infections could reduce trips to the pediatrician's office. Cameras in smartphones will inevitably replace nearly all portable cameras and camcorders, but could they also make basic medical instruments obsolete? A startup called CellScope plans to do just that by turning smartphones into digital first aid kits. To kickoff its campaign, the company is developing an iPhone attachment that turns the smartphone into an otoscope, providing a magnified view of the middle ear....The peripheral attaches to the top of an iPhone and provides a 10x magnification. Using CellScope’s web platform, users can upload captured images and pediatricians can remotely assess the severity of the infection. Doctors can then provide a diagnosis, prescribe antibiotics, or recommend the child be brought into the office for a more thorough examination....The technology for CellScope originated at the University of California, Berkeley, where researchers were focusing on the development of a fluorescence microscope peripheral that could help diagnose tuberculosis in patients in developing countries....CellScope was formed in order to bring smartphone microscopes to market, but to begin, it’s aiming at microscopy applications that require lower magnification, such as the otoscope and another device in the pipeline, a dermascope to diagnose rashes and other skin ailments. .

Here's a short blurb about inflammatory diseases of the middle ear (see: Inflammatory Diseases of the Middle Ear ):

Inflammatory diseases of the middle ear include a broad range of pathological conditions, including acute otitis media (AOM; suppurative or nonsuppurative), bullous myringitis, granular myringitis, eosinophilic otitis media, and chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM), with or without cholesteatoma. The range and complexity of the problems that can arise pose a challenge to the clinician, who sometimes has only subtle clues that lead to the discovery of extensive disease.  AOM is characterized by a short-lived infection (< 3 mo) that may be initially viral and then bacterial in origin. Patients generally experience pain and some hearing loss and often develop a fever. Discharge from the ear usually accompanies this infection in patients with acute suppurative otitis media.  

I am not sure how easy it will be for a mom or dad to hold a squirming child, manipulate the otoscope/smart phone, and capture an image of the possibly inflamed ear canal and typanic membrane. Nevertheless, the story is interesting in terms of the new uses for smartphone cameras that are being developed. It also supports the idea of people taking more ownership of their health and that of their families. If this works, it sure beats a trip to the pediatrician's office.

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