How Smartphone Cameras May Finally Have the Ability To Detect If The Person Suffer From Anemia
Patients who suffer from anemia may now get the extra help they need and deserve through their smartphones. That’s because researchers have finally developed an algorithm that is able to predict anemia with an accuracy higher than 70 percent. This has been made possible with the phone’s images of the inner eyelid. The camera can now possibly estimate blood hemoglobin concentration just through a picture. In fact, the app that’s being developed could serve as a method of screening for anemia for people who live in remote locations or for those who are too far away from medical care.
Reality is that anemia affects more than 5 percent of those who live in the United States and about 25 percent all over the world. Symptoms oftentimes include fatigue, dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, and difficulty concentrating. This stems from a low blood hemoglobin concentration.
For those who suffer from severe anemia, the disease could result to malnutrition, parasitic infections, or other underlying diseases. This is also a significant risk factor for death and morbidity, especially for those who are part of vulnerable groups such as children, older adults, and people who are plagued by chronic illnesses.
A recent study has been made the details of which appear in the open access journal PLOS ONE. In it, it has been stated that using a smartphone picture of a person’s inside lower eyelid to predict anemia is about 72 percent accurate, which is a big feat in itself. Traditionally, healthcare workers and professionals oftentimes diagnose the disease by performing a complete blood count using sensitive lab equipment. Unfortunately, there is a disproportionate occurrence of the disease for those in the rural settings since the people living here don’t have sufficient access to healthcare.
According to the authors of the study made, there is dire need for an inexpensive, accessible, and noninvasive point-of-care equipment that’s capable of identifying anemia. The ideal tool that they need would use preexisting, widely available technology, which for now, is the smartphone.
Smartphone Cameras to be Used as Detectors
Researchers designed a two-phase study to see if the possibility of using a smartphone camera to aid in the detection of anemia could be a reality. The first phase of the study required the researchers to take images of the inner lower eyelids of 142 patients in an emergency department with the use of a smartphone.
The researchers selected the palpebral conjunctiva, or called the lower inner eyelid in layman’s terms, because it has the following unique features:
- It is very accessible for pictures.
- There are no competing colors found between blood vessels and the conjunctival surface.
- The distance measured between the surface and blood vessels is very small.
- Blood flow to the area isn’t easily affected by temperature and other environmental factors.
What the camera does is zoom in on a small region in each photo. The experts behind this wonderful and innovative piece of technology were able to develop an algorithm that maximizes color resolution and a predictive model comparing the skin and whites of the eyes to the body’s hemoglobin levels.
Then, the second phase of the study involved testing the algorithm on smartphone images of 202 different patients who were in the emergency department of the hospital. The findings were hopeful as it showed that the model was 72.6 percent accurate in predicting anemia. Its accuracy in predicting severe anemia that would necessitate a blood transfusion was higher, at between 86 percent and 94.4 percent.
The lead study author is Dr. Selim Suner, of Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital. He explained how patients just need iron supplements, which are cheap and readily accessible, for those who have been diagnosed with anemia. He said, “Making the diagnosis is the hard part.”
Dr. Girish Nadkarni, clinical director of the Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Health at Mount Sinai Health System, also agrees with what Dr. Suner maintained. He further explained, “Using a smartphone to screen for anemia is beneficial due to the decentralized nature of the screening — avoiding the need to draw blood — and the time and effort savings this entails.”
The Study’s Strengths and Limitations
The results of the study further showed that flash photography was not a need in order to indicate acceptable images for the detection of the disease. Additionally, the authors behind the study have explained, “RAW images provide data directly from the camera sensor without the typical processing and compression that occurs with common formats, such as JPEG.”
There were potential limitations that the researchers noted, however, and this included variable image quality. However, this could have also been a result of the person retracting their eyelid when their images were recorded. Moreover, the lighting had not been standardized at that time. At this point, it is still unknown whether varying levels of brightness played a role in the picture’s quality.
Medical Apps for Smartphones in the Future
In 2019, 36 percent of the world’s population already had smartphones. The trends suggest that while affluent individuals are more likely to own one, the lower socioeconomic regions still make use of one form or another of these devices. Hence, there is still a worldwide steady growth.
The authors said, “These results set the stage for the development of an application within a smartphone, which can not only acquire the image but also analyze the elements within the image to predict hemoglobin concentration in real time.”
They further explained, “This is an especially attractive opportunity for developing countries, which may have sparse, rudimentary, and poorly distributed medical systems but are well-interconnected by established telecommunication networks.”
The future development of the app will center on the design of a user interface so that’s it can be made simple for the layman to take a decent image. This means that the lighting, focus, and area of interest should all optimized. The authors also said that there is a necessity for imaging tools and further algorithm developments to be made and validated.
According to Dr. Suner, this study shows how anemia prediction using a smartphone is a workable and possible concept. This project, and those in succession, could have a positive effect, especially on large populations, when it comes to the world’s health contribution.