Health in Your Hands: How Your Phones Double Up as Medical Devices
Health tech running off a smartphone.
Health tech running off a smartphone.(Photo: FIT)

Health in Your Hands: How Your Phones Double Up as Medical Devices

It’s not an exaggeration to say that smartphones have become an integral part of our lives which we can’t seem to do without. Cheap or expensive – there’s a type for everyone, with apps, for almost everything under the sun. Digital health latched on to this a few years ago, connecting patients and doctors with a click. Now health tech is going beyond and is using this tiny device as a medical equipment.

Let’s take a look at some such innovations.

Also Read : How Much Tech in Healthcare is Too Much? Where to Draw the Line?

1. Smartphone as Ultrasound

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@JMRothberg)

This affordable, portable ultrasound device works with a smartphone. It’s a hand-held ultrasound scanner called the Butterfly iQ. The scanner can be connected to a smartphone and the result is displayed on the phone screen.

The device offers diagnostic capabilities to patients living far from medical infrastructure. It’s currently being used in African villages, where the access to machines like X-ray, MRI scanner and ultrasound is poor.

It even has the potential to fill such a gap in rural India. Jonathan Rothberg, Butterfly’s founder, was quoted as saying:

Two-thirds of the world’s population gets no imaging at all. When you put something on a chip, the price goes down and you democratise it.
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2. Smartphone as Ventilator

It’s touted to be world’s cheapest portable ventilator.
It’s touted to be world’s cheapest portable ventilator.
(Photo Courtesy: AgVa Healthcare)

A low-cost, user-friendly portable ventilator has made it possible for patients on ventilator in hospitals to finally go home after years. Developed by AIIMS neurosurgeon Dr Deepak Aggarwal and 26-year-old robotics scientist Professor Diwakar Vaish, it’s touted to be the world’s cheapest, while providing the same quality and functioning as that of a traditional ventilator.

And to top it, you can run it via your Android phone.

One thing we realised is that most patients and their relatives own a smartphone. And we wanted to make something that’s user-friendly. So we designed an app.
Professor Diwakar Vaish, Robotics Scientist

The innovators plan to address an acute shortage of ventilators in India, in hospitals, clinics, ambulances etc.

Also Read : Low-Cost Health Tech: Your Phone Can Now Function As a Ventilator

3. Smartphone as ECG Machine

(Photo Courtesy: AliveCor)

Well, Apple did make noise about this with the Series 4 smartwatch boasting of providing an ECG feature, which means the wearer will be able to check their electrocardiography reading. It has what is called a single-lead electrocardiogram. To help you understand things, a regular medical ECG machine is a 12-lead electrocardiogram. So, it can’t replace the real deal, but can provide a primary diagnostic tool to check if something’s wrong.

Also Read : Apple’s New ECG App Won’t Replace an ECG Device, or a Doctor

AliveCor, on the other hand, claims to provide a “medical-grade ECG anytime, anywhere” on a mobile. It’s Generation 2 device contains 6 leads and is with the FDA for clearance.

It lets you capture an electrocardiogram at home and alerts doctors if something is wrong with your heart. “In just 30 seconds, detect normal heart rhythm or AFib,” reads their website.

These devices are enabling patients to predict possible health issues and address them quickly.

4. Smartphone as Stethoscope

Your phone now turns stethoscope. It can gather recordings of a person’s heartbeat and send this information over to a doctor for further assessment. It’s an app ‘Mobile Stethoscope’ for iOS, which records the body’s inner sounds using the phone’s microphone.

This can enable remote check-up and has the potential to identify respiratory disease, which often goes undetected. They built it to automatically detect a wheezing sound. The inventors tested their product at a clinic in India, with 86 percent success.

5. Smartphone for Diagnosing Infectious Diseases

A low-cost smartphone accessory by Columbia University researchers that can detect markers of infectious diseases – like HIV and syphilis – with just a finger prick of blood within 15 minutes. The small accessory or dongle easily connects to a smartphone to obtain blood test results.

This can provide point-of-care diagnosis for sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs). Something that needed a full laboratory set up can now be run on a smartphone.

So many such devices pioneered by health tech leaders are being used in developing countries and areas which lack a robust healthcare system, to fill the gap.

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