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SALT LAKE CITY — Almost from the beginning of the classic "Star Trek" saga, its writers envisioned a "tricorder" as a tool to diagnose the crew's health instantly, on location, no matter where they traveled. While a smartphone is not a tricorder, it's about to take medical testing down a new path.
Intermountain Medical Center physician Joel Ehrenkranz has invented a smartphone app that diagnoses diseases.
To show how his i-calQ app works, Ehrenkranz drew a small amount of blood from Brittnie, an expectant mother. She was not in a clinic or a lab, but outside in a small park. Ehrenkranz placed the blood sample in a holder then inserted it into an inexpensive reader attached to a smartphone.
In one minute, the smartphone had the results of her blood hemoglobin. Within 15 minutes, it had evaluated her thyroid test.
"They both came out normal, and in minutes, instead of having to wait for days, even months, to get the results," he said.
"I think it's great, being able to do it on location, anywhere, which saves you time and money," Brittnie said.
The smartphone app can image and interpret many diseases, including HIV, thyroid disease, syphilis, diabetes, adrenal disorders, malaria, kidney disease, infertility, anemia — the list goes on.
Brittnie's hemoglobin test costs less than $1. And for her thyroid evaluation, Ehrenkranz said "That comes in under $10 for what normally would take months and require hundreds of dollars, if you include the time it would take to go to a lab or set up for a consultation with another doctor."
The significant data that comes from huge centralized labs, often occupying 20,000 square feet or more, could be condensed down to a smartphone. And unlike traditional instant tests from urine and blood samples that yield basic positive or negative results, the phone app interprets the results.
"What we've been able to do is leverage the expertise of an endocrinologist by programming the thought process that an endocrinologist goes through in interpreting this test," Ehrenkranz said.
The app can image and interpret many diseases, including HIV, thyroid disease, syphilis, diabetes, adrenal disorders, malaria, kidney disease, infertility, anemia — the list goes on.
In underdeveloped countries, smartphone point-of-care could save lives. In fact, Ehrenkranz got the idea for this new technology in 2007 while working on the border between Uganda and the Congo. During an Ebola outbreak he theorized the beginnings of smartphone technology that could evolve into an immediate diagnosing tool.
The key, he said, is to move beyond simple tests that don't yield much information to portable high-tech handheld devices that can interpret, evaluate, and recommend a course of action.