Parents of young children know the drill. Late at night the child awakens in pain with what may be an ear infection.
What usually follows is a late night visit to the emergency room or a costly doctor visit the next morning. But Wilbur Lam, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at both Georgia Tech and Emory universities, has a different vision.
He's designing Remotoscope, a clip-on attachment and software app that turns an iPhone into an otoscope. Pediatricians currently diagnose ear infections using the standard otoscope to examine the eardrum.
With Remotoscope, parents would be able to take a picture or video of their child's eardrum using the iPhone and send the images digitally to a physician for diagnostic review.
Potential home diagnosis
"Ultimately we think parents could receive a diagnosis at home and forgo the late-night trips to the emergency room," said Lam, who is also a physician at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine. "It's known that kids who get ear infections early in life are at risk for recurrent ear infections. It can be a very big deal and really affect their families' quality of life."
Remotoscope's clip-on attachment uses the iPhone's camera and flash as the light source as well as a custom software app to provide magnification and record data to the phone. The iPhone's data transmission capabilities send images and video to a doctor's inbox or to the patient's electronic medical record.
The device has the potential to save money for both families and healthcare systems, Lam says. Ear infections, or otitis media, affect 75 percent of children by age 6, making it the most common diagnosis for preschoolers.
15 million office visits
They result in more than 15 million office visits per year in the United States and thousands of prescriptions for antibiotics, which are sometimes not needed. At the initial visit with a patient, physicians say it is difficult to differentiate between ear infections caused by viruses, which resolve on their own, and those caused by bacteria, which would require antibiotics.
"As pediatricians will likely only see the child once, they often err on the side of giving antibiotics for viral infections rather than risk not giving antibiotics for a bacterial infection, which can lead to complications," Lam said. "So, we are currently over-treating ear infections with antibiotics and consequently causing antibiotic resistance."
Lam believes Remotoscope may result in fewer prescriptions, saving the consumer -- or their health insurer -- a lot of money.
A clinical trial for the Remotoscope is currently under way to see if the device can obtain images of the same diagnostic quality as what a physician sees with a traditional otoscope. The Food and Drug Administration, through the Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium, is partially funding the trial, Lam said.