University of Washington computer scientists and electrical engineers have come together to develop HemaApp: an application that uses a smartphone camera to estimate hemoglobin concentrations.
Anemia, a blood condition exacerbated by malnutrition or parasitic disease, is a common health problem in the developing world that is often undiagnosed. Currently, in order to detect hemoglobin levels, most health care providers either use an invasive technique (i.e. a needle) or expensive machines that measure hemoglobin non-invasively. For those in developing countries, an affordable, non-invasive diagnosis tool would improve the quality of life of patients with leukemia or an undetected case of anemia tremendously.
HemaApp was developed in response to this need and uses a ubiquitous device: the smartphone. It shines light from a smartphone’s camera flash through the patient’s finger, bombarding a patient’s finger with different wavelengths of light and infrared energy. It then analyzes how the colors are absorbed and reflected across the wavelengths in order to estimate hemoglobin concentrations. The research team tested the app in three varying circumstances: first, using the smartphone camera’s flash alone, second, in combination with a common incandescent lightbulb, and third, with a low-cost LED lighting attachment.
The researchers designed the app to account for differences in skin tones, and developed processing algorithms that identified and used the patient’s pulse to distinguish between the properties of the patient’s blood and the physical characteristics of his or her finger.
The initial trails showed that the measurements on HemaApp had a 69 percent correlation to a patient’s Complete Blood Count (CBC) test, a 74 percent correlation when used under a common incandescent light bulb and an 82 percent correlation using a small circle of LED lights that can snap onto the phone. HemaApp’s results compared favorably to an FDA-approved medical device that also measures hemoglobin without using blood draws.
Although the mobile app will not replace blood tests, the most accurate way to measure hemoglobin, it can be used as an effective, affordable screening tool to deliver care in limited-resource environments.
.For more information on this innovative application, please visit: www.washington.edu