Smartphones to become pocket doctors


Scientists are repurposing the technology which already exists within phones, such as accelerometers, camera flashes and microphones to use as medical tools.

Professor Shwetak Patel, of the University of Washington is currently devising an app 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. Such a blood screening tool could quickly spot anaemia… More at The Telegraph.

I guess you don’t have to wait a week for your smartphone to give you an appointment which is another benefit.

Categories: Tech News

5 replies

  1. “detect red blood cell levels simply by placing a finger over the camera and flash”
    My S7 has this capability already (albeit it uses a separate sensor I think). Detects oxygen levels, stress, etc.
    Or at least it claims it does… 😉

  2. Ah yes, the regulation aspect. A personal view…

    I was diagnosed with sleep apnea a number of years ago. While the CPAP mask monitors breathing, it can’t do that unless it’s worn. There are lots of “sleep” apps. Some listen to your breathing and/or snoring. Some measure your respiration using sound. But none of them, at least in Canada, will tell you when you stop breathing. Because if they do that, they’re detecting sleep apnea and that would make them a “medical device”. And God help us if we try and monitor ourselves.

    The cost and bureaucracy of getting something approved means that very little will get out into the public.

    • Conversely, I suppose, there is a degree of comfort to be drawn from regulated devices in safety-critical / health applications, that the devices comply with a minimum standard. Should it be left to the user to determine whether the product they are buying — let’s say, a Bluetooth-controlled insulin injector — actually injects the correct quantity, for example? Or that the “do-it-yourself” pacemaker may not be the wisest investment, despite the five star reviews on Amazon?

      If it is just a recording function, and which doesn’t attempt to wake the user if it detects stopped breathing, the risk would seem low, especially if accompanied by sufficiently clear, on-screen, not-buried-in-ts&cs warnings about the potential for error. And, don’t get me wrong, I can see the frustration which a high barrier to entry can cause, in terms of choice/availability of products, speed of innovation and price.

      Perhaps it should be left as “buyer beware”, with normal contractual “fitness for purpose” rights (if any), but I can’t help but feel that, if it were to head in that direction, it would be a question of how many people would need to die or be injured before

      Perhaps “something must be done” about the barrier — whether it needs to be revisited to see whether it really does encompass only those things which could cause harm, to leave more functionality outside the scope of regulation.

      Or perhaps it is actually a sensible system, which runs pretty well on the whole and that, while there may be irritating and unfortunate situations where innovation is stifled or choices are limited in a disproportionate manner, overall, the benefit justifies the cost?

      (Sleep apnea sounds horribly unpleasant, and you definitely have my sympathies!)

      • It’s the inconsistency that frustrates me the most. I fully understand something like an insulin pump having to be closely regulated. On the other hand, one can buy and oximeter and blood pressure guage but we can’t, in Ontario at least, have home sleep analysis done.

        As for the sleep apnea, it can be very serious if untreated. The problem is that it’s not necessarily unpleasant while it’s happening because you actually don’t know you’ve stopped breathing for a time. But you do wake up feeling like you’ve had a bad night’s sleep. That said, snoring is one symptom and that’s unpleasant – for the person next to you.

        As for me, I found that I’m only affected when I sleep on my back and/or sleep with my mouth open. I don’t do either any more. I’ve checked with snoring apps and various sleep apps, and everything appears okay. But I’d really like to do a respiration measurement to know for sure. But that doesn’t seem possible short of another night in the hospital for a full sleep test. And when they hook everything up, it’s very difficult to sleep on your side. Catch 22.

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