App Turns Your Phone's Camera Into a Jaundice-Detecting Pediatrician

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Infant jaundice, where a baby's liver can't remove blood toxins, is potentially fatal. Doctors recognize it as an unusual yellow hue in a baby's skin and eyes, but what if you're a nervous parent far from a pediatrician? This experimental app turns your phone's camera into a doctor's trained eye.

BiliCam's premise is simple: Just lay the printed color key on your baby's belly and snap a photo. The app sends the photo's data to the cloud, where an algorithm measures the difference between the baby's skin tone and the color chart to instantly send an estimated bilirubin level to your phone.

The University of Washington team that developed the app envisions it as a more portable and accessible version of the screening tool used in hospitals and doctors' offices, a machine that costs thousands of dollars and may not be accessible to parents living far from their pediatrician. In a very small test of 100 infant patients, BiliCam performed as well or better than the current standard screening tool. Further testing will help the researchers fine-tune the algorithm to work with a wide variety of complexions and lighting conditions.


Such an app could provide enormous early-detection capability in parts of the world where access to smartphones far outstrips the availability of high-tech screening devices or the gold-standard jaundice blood test. That would be a big boon for healthcare workers in underserved regions. "We're really excited about the potential of this in resource-poor areas, something that can make a difference in places where there aren't tools to measure bilirubin but there's good infrastructure for mobile phones," University of Washington professor of pediatrics James Taylor said.

It could also provide simple peace of mind for new parents, giving them a reliable way to know if it's time to call the doctor. BiliCam's inventors hope to get the app in doctors' hands for additional testing within a year, with FDA approval hopefully to follow. [University of Washington via CultOfMac]


Image: University of Washington