Your Smartphone May Help Diagnose Your Kid's Infection
The Remotoscope clips onto a smartphone, turning it into a device that can peer into kids' ears and send images to a doctor. Kids prone to frequent ear infections can then get diagnosed from home.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Georgia Tech
Many people know of kids — perhaps their own kids — who keep getting ear infections. Some children get them as often as every few weeks, says pediatrician and researcher Wilbur Lam, and the worst infections may necessitate a late-night trip to the emergency room with a screaming toddler in tow. But a new device and app Lam is working on could help parents get their kids diagnosed at home, using their smartphones.
"That's a pretty big deal when you think about the number of ear infections that occur every year and if you think about the quality of life improvements that we can make," said Lam, who sees patients and conducts research at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University. "A lot of kids have chronic ear infections and that's really the families we hope we can target."
The device, called the Remotoscope, clips onto an iPhone to turn it into an otoscope — the pointy-ended instruments doctors use to peer into patients' ears. An associated app then sends images of the inner ear to the child's doctor. The Remotoscope could reduce emergency room visits for kids who get ear infections frequently, Lam said. At the same time, it could reduce unnecessary antibiotic use by making it easier for doctors to check infections every day and hold back on giving drugs for infections that improve on their own, he added. [Survey: Health Apps a Big Hit on Smartphones]
During just one doctor's visit, it's difficult for pediatricians to tell if a child's ear infection is caused by bacteria, which would require antibotics, or if it's caused by a virus, which isn't affected by antibiotics, Lam explained. Because doctors get to see kids only once, however, "they kind of make this judgment call," he said. Many physicians will give out an antibiotic prescription just in case, resulting in virus-infected kids getting drugs they don't need. Over time, such practices lead to antibiotic resistance, reducing drugs' ability to fight off the bacterial infections they were meant to cure. In addition, antibiotics can cause unwanted side effects.
"Every pediatrician that practices right now knows that we over-prescribe antibiotics for ear infections almost more than any other kind of illness," Lam told TechNewsDaily.
With a Remotoscope, Lam hopes doctors will be able to check kids' ears over successive days without requiring parents to make several appointments. "Two days is probably good enough" for doctors to make more informed decisions about whether to prescribe antibiotics, he said.
Lam and a team of researchers are now running an experiment they hope will help them get U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the Remotoscope as a medical device. Using the device, they're taking videos of the inner ears of children who come into Children's Healthcare of Atlanta hospital with infections. A panel of doctors will compare the Remotoscope videos with videos from traditional otoscopes, rating whether the Remotoscope is good enough to make diagnoses.
Lam has also started a company, CellScope, to market the technology when it's ready. CellScope will also have to work on the mechanism for sending images or video from Remotoscope-equipped smartphones to doctor's offices. Lam envisions the data going directly into kids' electronic medical records.