A new clip-on accessory for smartphones promises to offer early diagnoses of cataracts, providing a cost-effective solution to prevent blindness worldwide.
A team of MIT scientists has developed the Catra system, which allows lets a user to look through an eyepiece that slides onto the smart phone or other smart devices. The patient sees lines on the screen, and pushes a button when the lines look cloudy. If there are enough lines that look cloudy, Catra diagnoses the cataract and treatment can start.
If cataracts are diagnosed early enough, they can be removed and the patient will keep his eyesight.
Before the new device, cataracts could only be found with an optometrist’s tool called a slit lamp, which costs about $5,000. Without the expensive slit lamps, cataracts aren’t seen until they are further along.
However, in non-affluent countries and parts of the United States, doctors’ offices don’t have that tool. Without it, cataracts go undiagnosed until it’s too late to do much about them.
MIT says it’s already tested Catra on 22 patients, and found one case of undiagnosed cataracts that hadn’t been detected at doctor’s office.
The same MIT team also created NETRA, a smartphone-enabled program that checks eye prescriptions.
The Catra system is just one of a series of medical advancements to use mobile technology to improve healthcare and diagnose medical conditions early. A new iPhone app, called “Skin Scan,” claims to detect melanoma by using the device’s camera to take photos of a suspicious spot or mark and diagnose it on the screen. There is also an app that helps diagnose malaria by taking a photo of a blood sample and highlighting the disease’s indicators.
Overall, the development of medical apps raises questions about whether a smartphone should be considered as a medical device, or as just a helpful tool for doctors and clinicians, prompting the Food and Drug Administration to consider drafting new guidelines to approve mobile health apps.