“There’s an app for that” is a popular expression these days, usually uttered at the sight of some poor soul actually doing something for themselves, when they could just easily use their phone to do it. Calculating tips, giving you directions and providing you with your week’s supply of dinner options, apps have really come into their own as a mainstay in our modern world. But how much can they really do?
Dr. Eric Topol is a cardiologist and outspoken advocate for the uses of mobile health technology, and very recently, he had the opportunity to practice some of his ideas. How do you ask? Dr. Topol used his smartphone and a mobile ultrasound device to diagnose his own kidney stone, and he did all in the comfort of his own home.
Topol was experiencing sharp pains in his side for a number of days until he decided to try his luck at a self-diagnosis. Using a Philips Lumify, a portable ultrasound that plugs into a smartphone, he scanned his body and sent the images to his phone. And the results of his scene revealed a dilated kidney, reaffirming his suspicion. He then went to the ER to have another doctor to confirm his findings.
To his credit, Dr. Topol is a cardiologist and doesn’t specialize in kidneys, however, he had trained himself to take images of all of his organs using this device.
“I never thought I was going to need to use it,” he told Vocativ. “I thought it was a kidney stone, but I wasn’t sure because it wasn’t severe, but it was persistent.”
The use of smartphone ultrasounds have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as early as 2011, however, according to Topol, it doesn’t seem to be gaining any traction in popularity.
“It’s very hard to get doctors to use this,” he said. “Beyond a lack of training and habit, there are reimbursement issues. If you use this device as a doctor, you can’t bill for it. Everything is aligned for doctors not to use this technology, unfortunately.”
“When I use this with patients, we look at it together in real time,” he added. “Normally, when you do an ultrasound you send someone to a lab. The technician isn’t allowed to tell that patient anything…so the patient goes home without any knowledge of what the scan shows. [Using smartphone ultrasounds] is a real bonding experience between the doctor and the patient.”
This technology is opening the door for realtime medical diagnosis in even the most hazardous and depleted of environments and has the potential to save millions of lives in developing countries.