Someday Doctors Will Use Your Phone to Diagnose You

A third camera on your phone would be able to analyze the colors on liquid and paper-based medical tests (similar to a paper litmus test) and translate their outcomes into diagnoses.

Cell phone cameras are one of the most utilized features, and the billions of selfies uploaded every year is proof of that. In addition to the rear-facing camera, most cell phones contain a front-facing camera that’s used exclusively for selfies. However, according to a new study, your smartphone may soon have a third camera—and it’s one that will make you very happy.

A team of researchers at the University of Illinois have created an image sensor that can be used for environmental monitoring and health diagnostics. For the last three years, this team has been working on their “Lab-in-a-Smartphone” concept, and their latest efforts could prove highly effective at reading medical tests.

A specially made camera, when installed to smartphones, could use LEDs for optical spectroscopy, measuring the “optical absorption spectra of colored liquids or the optically scattered spectra of solid objects.”

The technology is complex, but one of the scientists broke it down: “This technology uses illumination from a bank of light emitting diodes (LEDs), which is gathered into a cylindrical plastic rod. The rod collimates the light and sends it to a test point in front of the camera. The system allows only one wavelength to pass through to the camera at a time, but the selected wavelength is linearly variable across the width of the camera. The component used in the system, called a Linear Variable Filter (LVF), looks like a ~2×8 mm2 thin piece of glass that is glued on top of the camera’s pixels, so it performs wavelength separation without using vertical space like conventional spectrometers do.”

The camera would be able to analyze the colors on liquid and paper-based medical tests (similar to a paper litmus test) and translate their outcomes into diagnoses for the user.

Your Smartphone as Spectrometer

Their research, published in Sensors and Actuators B, details how the specially built-in smartphone camera would be placed over a liquid-containing cartridge to measure the color of the liquid. According to the lead researcher, “The pixels of the additional image sensor would have a linear variable filter glued on top of it that transforms the camera into a spectrometer. Since the component would be an integral part of the phone, the information generated by it can be seamlessly integrated with other information about the patient, and the test being performed, while interacting with a cloud-based smart service system that provides immediate actionable feedback.”

The analysis would be sent to a physician, who would be able to make a diagnosis without the need to see the patient.

Their research proved effective when they accurately measured the liquids of a fetal fibronectin enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), a protein that can determine the risk of a pregnant woman having a premature birth.

While there is still a ways to go before the technology is thoroughly tested and all the bugs ironed out, there is hope for the future. Smartphone manufacturers may someday be offering health-conscious individuals the option to buy devices with these third cameras used for medical diagnostics.