Cellphone system helps diagnose ear trouble

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A San Francisco startup will turn a smartphone into a functioning otoscope.

If you went to the doctor's office growing up, chances are someone pointed that little flashy light in your ear. But now, a San Francisco start-up wants to give parents the power to perform that same exam from home.

"It's really that piece of mind, Saturday night child's crying, where as you would have had to go to urgent care, or the E.R., now you can look in the child's ear," says co-founder Erik Douglas.

To make that possible, Douglas and fellow co-founder Amy Sheng launched CellScope, with the mission of turning an ordinary smart phone into a functioning version of an otoscope. A cone shaped housing contains the lighting and optics system and is placed over the phone's camera. Once in place, a specialized app on the phone helps guide the placement in the ear.

"Then the arrow will guide us. And the app tells us we found the ear drum, so we've got the light bone, the hammer bone, reflex," Douglas explains while demonstrating the system, known as the Oto.

Users can then record the high-resolution images, including any areas of redness or inflammation that might indicate an ear infection. The results can then be shared with their doctor, or sent to a fee-based service the company runs, which promises a diagnosis in about two hours.

"Our app securely transmits the exam and associated symptom information on the back end to make a diagnosis and call you back to explain the treatment plan," he says.

ABC7 News first profiled an early version of the scope four years ago, when it was still in development at the University of California as a field microscope. Sheng and Douglas later repurposed the device, taking advantage of growing consumer market for cellphone-based diagnostic devices.

"It's not just about the hardware, we're looking at the hardware now, but it's also how it interacts with the software," says co-founder Amy Sheng.

And if the CellScope is successful, the company believes other uses could emerge in the future. The Oto kit itself sells for $79, and that price includes one free diagnosis from the company's network of physicians.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.

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healthmedicalsciencetechnologysmartphonesstartupSan Francisco
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