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article imageHow smartphones can revolutionize the diagnosis of disease

By James Walker     Mar 5, 2015 in Technology
Smartphones are revered for their huge range of capabilities, expandable via apps that use the potential of the hardware to maximum effect. One of the most intriguing possibilities being explored now is the ability to use a phone to diagnose illness.
Recent innovations in this fledgling field include a test kit for HIV and syphilis that plugs into the headphone's headphone jack. Yielding results in just 15 minutes, an app guides the user through the process and analysis the results.
Although not yet ready for manufacture, it costs only $34 to make. If the cost could be lowered just a little more, it could undercut the typically $40 price tag on over-the-counter pharmacy HIV testers.
The test is certainly a lot easier than going to a local clinic or using costly private tests. The app guides you through pricking your finger, entering the blood sample to the test kit and waiting while the app analyses its results, looking for the presence of tell-tale HIV markers on DNA strands in the blood.
Once publicly available, the technology could be used to diagnose STDs in the privacy of your own home without initially attending a doctor. Another practical use is to help those in developing countries who find it hard to obtain medical care
A test in Rwanda found that healthcare workers had mastered the operation of the app in only 30 minutes. Ninety-seven percent of patients recommended it afterwards.
Others have suggested that, inherent awkwardness inside, the probe could be used to find STDs in partners before sex.
Another app targeting a radically different disease is capable of diagnosing Parkinson's disease with 99 percent accuracy. It records a person's voice and movements before analysing them. The signs include softened speech with a slight tremor, something that software can detect.
As Parkinson's is a symptoms-orientated disease, it is often not confirmed until relatively late. Apps like this could enable it to be diagnosed earlier and more efficiently, enabling better care quality.
As many smartphones already record movements in fitness trackers and some use passive voice listening to detect commands for voice assistants, it is possible to envision a future where your phone could constantly monitor issues like Parkinson's, alerting you when an issue is potentially detected.
People are concerned that this could cause "health scares" though, provoking people to visit doctors unnecessarily when their phone tells them too and creating what the technology tries to solve.
In another example of smartphone usage in healthcare, apps have been used to detect eye disease. Another potentially huge life-saver in developing countries where eye health is a major concern, the large cameras of contemporary phones provide high-resolution detail of the eye, making issues clearly visible to rushed aid workers who tend not to have time to perform lengthy examinations on patients.
With all of these developments, it is possible that in the future phones could play a much bigger role in healthcare than they currently do. While many enjoy monitoring their fitness and daily steps on their mobile with the included apps, perhaps we will eventually see diagnosis features built-in too.
With software able to detect such radically different diseases accurately, pressure could be removed from overworked doctors and hospitals by the introduction of the digital health assistant in your home.
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