The leading cause of death in children worldwide, pneumonia kills an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of five every year - more than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. Now, a team of scientists at the University of Melbourne, Australia has created “StethoCloud”, a cloud-based app for smartphones that can help diagnose conditions like pneumonia without the need for a doctor.
The StethoCloud app guides the user through the proper method for listening to a patient’s breathing when the “stethomic” attachment – a small microphone that plugs into the smartphone’s audio input – is placed on the patient's body. When the app has recorded enough information, the phone transmits it to a server to filter out noise and analyze the data. Once the server has examined this information, the results are sent back to the phone with recommendations for treatment.
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Many of the deaths from pneumonia come from developing countries where stethoscopes (and the medical professionals needed to accurately diagnose the disease) are in short supply. Pneumonia-related symptoms often present as indications of other less harmful conditions, so people generally don’t seek immediate help. By the time pneumonia is diagnosed these symptoms have often reached a life-threating stage.
By eliminating the geographical problems associated with people receiving medical help, the StethoCloud can essentially be seen as a “portable doctor”.
The stethomic attachment is expected to cost only around US$20, which is several hundred dollars cheaper than digital stethoscopes on the market.
The StethoCloud website puts it this way: “It is now possible for people in the developing world to make their own devices based on our design. A local technician with access to sufficient training and the right materials can produce our digital stethoscopes thereby empowering communities to be self-reliant.”
Team StethoCloud, the group of young doctors and computer science majors that created the application and stethoscope attachment, first came to prominence in the 2012 Microsoft Imagine Cup technology competition.
The team is currently working with the Royal Children’s Hospital in Australia to develop research protocols for field-testing. The stethomic attachments have already been shipped to hospitals in Ghana, Malaysia and Mozambique.
A short video on the Stethocloud, which has been selected as a semifinalist in GE's Focus Forward Short Film Competition, can be viewed below.