Smartphones today are not just communication devices. Calling them “smart phones” is no longer enough — they can do much more. For example, wake up in the morning at the most opportune moment (which the program will determine on its own), check the owner’s condition, assess the level of stress by voice and health risks by indicators, and offer to make an appointment with a doctor. And all this is available today.
Every day we hold in our hands the most powerful tool for managing our own health. Cameras, accelerometers, computing power and Internet access turn a smartphone into a microscope, heart monitor, tremor detector and blood analyzer.
There are already sensors for smartphones to analyze skin lesions, detect depression, Alzheimer’s disease, COVID-19, take a spermogram and an ECG without leaving home. Meet your smartphone as a guide to the world of digital medicine. What can he do?
Let’s start with a simple and familiar one: assessing the level of activity based on motion sensors, calculating calories burned and reminding you to get up from your chair. Why is this also part of health care?
It’s not just about losing weight: one in four adults, according to the World Health Organization, has a lack of physical activity. This means an increased risk of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Fitness apps on smartphones aren’t limited to activity tracking, they measure sleep as well. Intelligent features help identify and correct abnormal sleep habits. And also to identify the risks of reduced immune defenses and Alzheimer’s disease — they also manifest themselves in the way we sleep.
Analysis of hemoglobin level
Non-invasive technology for assessing the level of hemoglobin is available to everyone: just look at the color of the lower inner eyelid. Normally, it is pink — due to the filling of the microvascular structure. With anemia, the redness is lost, and the shades become pale. A blood test is needed to confirm suspicions of a low hemoglobin count.
However, US scientists have already developed a smartphone app that evaluates an image of the inner eyelid and calculates hemoglobin levels with laboratory-like accuracy. And all this — in a simple picture.
How much oxygen is in the blood?
The need to measure blood oxygen levels has been widely discussed in connection with COVID-19, and oximeters have become so in demand that they have skyrocketed in price and disappeared from sale. However, oxygen saturation should also be monitored for other illnesses, especially during flu and SARS seasons.
In order for patients at risk not to spend money on the purchase of special devices, smartphones (for example, Samsung) have built-in pulse oximetry sensors. For other phones, there are applications that help similar functions according to the camera data.
For experts, the readings of such sensors and applications raise questions about the accuracy of diagnostics.
But thanks to the new coronavirus infection (at least it brought something positive), more sensitive sensors are appearing, which developers plan to embed in new smartphone models.
Thermometer that is always with you
The simplest and most familiar biomarker — body temperature — has not yet been able to measure smartphones. A lot of complex features for these gadgets turned out to be much more accessible than estimating this simple parameter.
There were two reasons — inappropriate design and heat generation by the smartphone itself during operation. So, Samsung at one time tried to build a thermometer into a smartphone, but in the end refused — everything is too complicated.
But Huawei engineers turned out to be more sophisticated: in China, a new Honor model is already on sale, which is equipped with an infrared sensor. It is enough just to put the phone to a person or object, and the screen will show the temperature of the object. Moreover, the inventors did not limit themselves to the range of indicators for the human body: as they say, the smartphone evaluates everything in the range from ‑20 ° C to 100 ° C.
Rare genetic pathologies
The problem with diagnosing rare hereditary diseases is that they are rare. Although about half a million children with such pathologies are born every year in the world, this does not mean that every doctor in his work has encountered examples of such diseases and knows how they manifest themselves.
To help specialists, as well as parents and the children themselves, Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania) has developed an application that detects Huntington’s disease by early signs — when there are no visual manifestations.
It is based on a set of tests to assess physical and cognitive skills and early signs of their decline. And although there is no therapy for this disease, early detection helps to increase life expectancy and the “window” of a healthy period.
Sleep apnea and smartphone
Sleep apnea is a serious problem that leads to various disorders. If a person snores and breaks appear in the process of breathing, this is it, apnea. However, those who spend their nights alone or near a soundly sleeping partner, or who do not snore in their sleep (which is especially common in children), need polysomnography. However, those who snore should also undergo such a study in order to assess the scale of the problem and understand what threatens sleep disturbance.
However, polysomnography means that one has to spend the night in the clinic, while sleeping entangled with wires and sensors. In addition to the availability of such a technique only in large centers, this is also an expensive study. And here smartphones come to the rescue again.
ApneaApp is an application developed at the University of Washington. Thanks to its functionality, the smartphone turns into an active sonar without additional equipment.
In the first trials, the app was compared with polysomnography results and found to be 98% accurate.
Mole or melanoma?
Even small pretty moles may not be so harmless. For self-assessment, there are applications that require answers to questions, for a more detailed diagnosis, there are actions to combat melanoma, when doctors can send photos of suspicious skin formations.
And for smartphones, applications have been developed that evaluate moles from a photo from a camera. They operate according to a built-in algorithm, and the most advanced ones send a picture to real doctors for analysis and recommendations. And then they can remind you of the need to re-evaluate the condition of the skin.
Heart Problems: Mini ECG
In fact, the market is filled with various applications that estimate the heart rate by pulse — just press your finger to the smartphone’s camera. But most have a lot of drawbacks — from accuracy to the inability to record and evaluate results.
However, there is already an application developed by the Finns that does not work according to data from the camera, but based on information from the accelerometer and gyroscope, which are in all modern smartphones. It helps to identify a dangerous form of arrhythmia — atrial fibrillation.
Unlike other applications, for this you need not to press your finger to the camera, but to put the smartphone on your chest. The fluctuations of the gadget during the heartbeat are processed by an algorithm, and the analysis results are 95% accurate.
Conception and smartphone
According to statistics, the average man is afraid to find out that the cause of family infertility is in his “tadpoles”. From the appearance of the problem to the spermogram, it usually takes at least a year.
To reduce stress, there are special devices — mini-cameras for smartphones. And applications — one estimates the activity and the number of sperm in a drop of seminal fluid, the second — the dates of ovulation (with an accuracy of 98%), to maximize the chances of conception.
Instant HIV testing is also already available — you need an app and a disposable smartphone sensor from experts from University College London. The accuracy exceeds the readings of the tests, and the examination time takes no more than 10 seconds.
Inside the sensor is a computer chip with channels coated with special particles that react to the immunodeficiency virus in blood, saliva and other biological fluids. If the particles react, the sensor sends a signal to the smartphone.
Diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases by speech
The Canadian company WinterLight Labs has developed an application that responds to subtle signals in the voice. It helps to analyze speech and detect Alzheimer’s disease, age-related neurodegeneration (senile dementia), signs of aphasia — for example, after a microstroke.
At the moment, the algorithm is being adapted for smartphones. It can prove invaluable to relatives of the elderly and health care workers in nursing homes.
Greece is developing an application for the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. It will assess the state of a person by voice, selfie, as well as by the presence of hand tremors in the process of holding a smartphone.
The smartphone will evaluate the nature of the cough
A new app from doctors in Massachusetts is aimed at diagnosing respiratory infections in children. ResAppDx analyzes cough — frequency, depth, moisture, time of occurrence — on inhalation or exhalation, which in the future will help replace a lot of laboratory tests and speed up an accurate diagnosis.
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