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StethoCloud Project Diagnoses Pneumonia On the Cheap

timothy posted about a year and a half ago | from the changing-the-shape-of-the-bottleneck dept.

Cloud 55

Hugh Pickens writes "According to the World Health Organization, nearly one in five childhood deaths worldwide is caused by pneumonia, each year killing an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of 5, more than any other disease. Even in developed countries, trained healthcare professionals have trouble accurately diagnosing pneumonia because diagnosis comes after the onset of symptoms, which often must become severe before the condition is recognized as life threatening. Now Singularity Hub reports on StethoCloud, a cloud-based service that turns a Windows smartphone into a digital stethoscope. Using a specially designed microphone called a 'stethomic' that plugs into the smartphone's audio jack, and an app that guides users through the proper method for listening to a patient's breathing, early testing shows promise at accurately detecting the disease. Currently, the group is working with the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne to develop research protocols for field testing and they've sent the stethomics to hospitals in Ghana, Malaysia, and Mozambique. By next year, the team hopes the device will be in use in areas that need it most. The team expects its stethoscope to cost around $15 to $20, significantly cheaper than current digital stethoscopes in the market which tend to cost hundreds of dollars. The team argues that the cost of the phone itself is negligible, as smartphones are quickly becoming common even in the developing countries where childhood pneumonia is most prevalent."

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55 comments

Why cloud? (2)

Cenan (1892902) | about a year and a half ago | (#41128581)

The project looks extremely interesting and useful, but I don't get why they wish to base it on "the cloud". Does their algorithm really require a centralized server to compute a result? Seems to me that would prohibit the application's use in areas where an internet link is not available.

Re:Why cloud? (4, Insightful)

tenex (766192) | about a year and a half ago | (#41128683)

According to article, yes I admit to having read it, they have a stand-alone java based version that runs on just about anything; the 'cloud' version is constantly collecting historical data that allows the diagnostic algorithms to learn and improve themselves. I'm not sure that last part is actually true but it is a nice thought.

Re:Why cloud? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41129027)

Cloud based systems are problematic in 3rd world countries. I live in the North of Johannesburg in South Africa, and often battle with smartphone apps that don't work because of connectivity issues. In rural areas the connectivity can be even worse, even though the networks are not nearly as congested there. Mady rural areas in South Africa and I assume the rest of Africa, only have EDGE (2G) data coverage, if at all.

Re:Why cloud? (1)

kelemvor4 (1980226) | about a year and a half ago | (#41129087)

Cloud based systems are problematic in 3rd world countries. I live in the North of Johannesburg in South Africa, and often battle with smartphone apps that don't work because of connectivity issues. In rural areas the connectivity can be even worse, even though the networks are not nearly as congested there. Mady rural areas in South Africa and I assume the rest of Africa, only have EDGE (2G) data coverage, if at all.

Cloud based systems are problematic in first world countries as well. Particularly from a privacy perspective.

Re:Why cloud? (2)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about a year and a half ago | (#41129989)

The "Windows Smartphone" angle is problematic anywhere.

Nobody actually owns one. :-)

Re:Why cloud? (1)

davester666 (731373) | about a year and a half ago | (#41130513)

Oh, you can pick them up for free at the dump now. And once WP8 ships, there will be truckloads of WP 7.5-only Lumia's to hand out like chicklets. At least a whole bunch that haven't yet been skipped into a lake.

Re:Why cloud? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41133479)

This sort of thing was done on other platforms long ago, so a Windows phone is not required.

ThinkLabs developed a modified desktop build of the popular FOSS audio app Audacity (free Mac and Windows binary DL page below). Linux builds should be too much work. The digital stethoscope is much more than $20 though. They first offered one in 2003. They have set up some filters and added a spectragraph viewing mode in Audacity. Other audio/noise/vibration apps should be able to do basically the same thing. The electronic hardware certainly doesn't seem cheaper than a regular stethoscope. Possibly having someone relatively unskilled sample the sounds, then (cloud?) sending the file to someone with a medical background is the cost savings. But there would still be a need for suitable resources to supply any needed medications.

ThinkLabs has also made iOS lung and heart apps.

http://www.thinklabsmedical.com/software-download.html [thinklabsmedical.com]

Sethoscope software (Audacity derived) manual
http://www.thinklabsmedical.com/support-and-manuals/26-electronic-stethoscope/support/74-stethoscope-software-user-manual.html [thinklabsmedical.com]

http://thinklabsmedical.com/ [thinklabsmedical.com]

It looks like the dev is a musician dealing in modest volume. Audio expertise was no doubt helpful with both the stethoscope and apps.

Re:Why cloud? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41129857)

We prefer "developing world", not some crazy US/USSR cold-war term. Thanks.

Re:Why cloud? (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a year and a half ago | (#41130237)

Speaking from firsthand experience in Ghana, 3G cellular data coverage is available in most major cities, some villages, and several rural spots that happen to be flat enough that the network provider bothered to put in a better tower for wide coverage. The most up-to-date cities have 4G, and that's where I see the cloud aspect being most useful. It's normal for a city doctor to have a smartphone, but not a terrestrial internet connection to his office.

CES 2011: Microsoft's Kinect and Windows Phone 7 U (1)

kuok (2709129) | about a year and a half ago | (#41134893)

Microsoft sets the mood for the Consumer Electronics Show 2011 starting tomorrow with a pre-CES keynote this evening. In this first part, we've put together a few of the more important updates for Kinect users and the Windows Phone 7 ecosystem - http://is.gd/eqN4vu [is.gd]

Re:Why cloud? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41134919)

Kenya: 3G coverage in all major cities, and I wager 90% of urban centers and rural (inhabited) areas.

Re:Why cloud? (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#41128685)

The project looks extremely interesting and useful, but I don't get why they wish to base it on "the cloud". Does their algorithm really require a centralized server to compute a result? Seems to me that would prohibit the application's use in areas where an internet link is not available.

Its all about the liability and malpractice. Dr. VLM misdiagnosed my kid? Cool, lets bankrupt him. "The cloud" misdiagnosed my kid? .... crickets ... Sounds like the designers are in .au and the buyers are in Africa so plus or minus extradition treaties etc they're pretty safe.

Its not that they're evil, its just economics. Lets say 99% is a realistic goal, so 1% of the time you'll be sued for $10M. That means you need to charge everyone $100K just to break even on insurance. Unless you can put all the brains on the internet and the developers on another continent... then you can reduce the $100K per procedure cost of insurance to zero, and get the price down to a more unskilled labor range like $1 per person or whatever.

To some extent I'm not sure what the point is. If the cost of effective treatment dramatically exceeds the cost of diagnosis, and the cost of diagnosis is out of reach, then whats the point of lowering the cost of diagnosis. I guess from a system perspective its a net win to quickly and cheaply triage patients.

Re:Why cloud? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41128707)

"The cloud" misdiagnosed my kid? .... crickets ... Sounds like the designers are in .au and the buyers are in Africa so plus or minus extradition treaties etc they're pretty safe.

That's not really how it works. The provider making the diagnosis, regardless of the tools used to make that diagnosis, is legally responsible for that diagnosis until such time that the patient's management is transferred to another provider. If treatment is initiated by *any* provider, then that treatment-initiating provider is responsible for both the treatment AND the validity of the diagnosis s/he is treating.

Re:Why cloud? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41128929)

ok i know this is going to sound bad here.

but what about human overpopulation? if we are not also providing birth control to these areas, are we creating long-term problems by saving all of these lives?

in purely logical terms, humans are one of the only creatures with no regular predators. we're the only creatures that do not limit our reproduction in times of famine. we're one of the only mammals which don't have fairly high infant mortality rates though we did have that before modern medicine.

saving lives is great and makes you feel good. i mean, no one wants innocent children to die of preventable diseases. i get that. but that isn't what I am talking about, at all. if you cannot separate that from what I am talking about, you are not emotionally mature enough to have this discussion and i am tired of such people getting all upset, doing all kinds of name-calling, and ruining serious conversations that we should be having. i am talking about long-term here.

say, 50, 100, 500 years from now. is 7 billion people enough? how about 8 billion? at what point do we say there are enough humans on the planet and we should work towards neutral population growth? do we give no thought to this whatsoever and proceed blindly, hoping to eventually have the technology to colonize other planets before it threatens us to extinction? could we trust governments to manage this? individuals? or is humanity just ultimately doomed because we could not overcome the politics and such and could not manage our numbers and ended up taking the Earth's ecology down with us? this is at least as important as global climate change. even if global climate change never causes us any problems (a big "if" eh?) this one certainly could, but no one talks about it.

Re:Why cloud? (2)

TENTH SHOW JAM (599239) | about a year and a half ago | (#41133061)

Doctors frequently consult other doctors. This is so they make less mistakes. Think of the cloud option as a way of consulting with a "BigAssLibraryOfBreathingSounds" that have been filtered by experts in lung disease. Now the doctor still makes the final call (incidentally it's their insurance) but now they get the help of consultants around the world.

lies, lies, lies (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41128591)

All these stories about how cheap it is to save a life are lies.
It always only considers the short term costs and never considers the long term costs of adding to an already huge amount of overpopulation.
I'm not saying that these children should not be helped. I am just saying that we should stop the hypocrisy and face the facts. All of them

Windows Phone (3, Interesting)

vettemph (540399) | about a year and a half ago | (#41128603)

Why develop it for a phone that nobody uses (or wants)?

Re:Windows Phone (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#41128653)

Why develop it for a phone that nobody uses (or wants)?

The medical market understands high cost of sales more than it understands high cost of devices.

The team expects its stethoscope to cost around $15 to $20, significantly cheaper than current digital stethoscopes in the market which tend to cost hundreds of dollars.

I recently read MS spends $500 on advertising for each phone sold.

Re:Windows Phone (5, Funny)

dwillmore (673044) | about a year and a half ago | (#41129151)

I recently read MS spends $500 on advertising for each phone sold.

No, that figure is wrong, it's $250, they sold another phone.

Re:Windows Phone (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41128819)

Had to know some fucking cock drinker like yourself would come by and focus on bullshit like you did. Can't you discuss the merits of what is happening, instead of the troll you went for? Of course not. Your shitbag personality prevents it.

Re:Windows Phone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41128927)

Had to know some fucking cock drinker like yourself would come by and focus on bullshit like you did. Can't you discuss the merits of what is happening, instead of the troll you went for? Of course not. Your shitbag personality prevents it.

Ooooh snap, you sure let that guy have it. You're such a paragon of virtue.

Easy to port to other platforms (1)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | about a year and a half ago | (#41128899)

The app does little more than guide the user where and how to take samples. The rest is done "in the cloud". It should be trivial to port it.

Re:Windows Phone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41133701)

Why develop it for a phone that nobody uses (or wants)?

It was an MS promotional activity, "a student technology competition hosted by Microsoft".

Re:Windows Phone (1)

wwphx (225607) | about a year and a half ago | (#41146127)

Why develop it for a phone that nobody uses (or wants)?

Because it was a contest sponsored by Microsoft using MS technology?

now, does it work? (1)

alen (225700) | about a year and a half ago | (#41128613)

one of my kids had pnemonia and one of the best pediatricians in NYC couldn't diagnose it for a few days because the exact symptoms didn't appear for a few days after the fever first started. at first he thought it was a virus

Re:now, does it work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41128749)

Maybe he thought of that, but didnt share. Reason, don't want to alarm you, or simply dismiss it because it is uncommon in nyc.

Re:now, does it work? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41128887)

A fever could be any of hundreds of ailments. Pneumonia is fluid in the lungs but it takes a chest X-ray to catch it early. You can't X-ray every kid running a fever.

Re:now, does it work? (1)

f3rret (1776822) | about a year and a half ago | (#41128939)

Sure you can, you just don't want to in most cases.

Might end up with hundreds of superpowered kids, not all of whom will end up going to heroic route.

Re:now, does it work? (0)

Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) | about a year and a half ago | (#41128971)

at first he thought it was a virus

And of course a viral infection cannot cause pneumonia. [wikipedia.org] He was right not to have diagnosed it, because it wasn't pneumonia then (yet) and your story stinks.

Re:now, does it work? (1)

tbird81 (946205) | about a year and a half ago | (#41134773)

The thing is, it most likely was a virus initially. The runny nose, cough, fever, that's the virus.

It might well have turned into a bacterial pneumonia after that. It might also have just been a viral pneumonia.

The important thing is actually how well the child is. If they've got a patch of small pneumonia which might have showed up on x-ray, and they get better by themselves there's no harm done. More harm if they had the (albeit low) radiation from a CXR and then strong antibiotics.

If the kids still feeding well, and they're not short-of-breath and breathing at really rapid rate with indrawing, let them be. If they get worse, take them back and get treated.

BTW the best way to check for pneumonia in the 3rd world is actually just having a clock and counting the number of breaths per second.

Re:now, does it work? (1)

wwphx (225607) | about a year and a half ago | (#41166195)

We were staying with friends near Denver, and Dave came to me at like 12:30 in the morning saying I had to take him to the hospital, he was having serious pain in the back not far from his heart. Dave can walk off kidney stones, so it has to be pretty serious pain for him to complain. At the ER they find nothing wrong with his heart, his lungs look good, everything looks OK. But he still has this pain and a persistent cough. They put him on antibiotics just in case, later do an angiogram, everything is good. He spends the weekend in the hospital, finally comes home. We're playing cards, and he's looking worse and worse and still coughing. Finally his wife takes him back to the emergency room and they find he has pneumonia.

Which first presented as chest pain.

When they compare the later x-ray with the first x-ray, they can see a shadow in his lung in the early one, but it wasn't enough to jump out and say "I'm pneumonia!"

Stethoscope costs $520 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41128623)

Except you need a Windows phone, and they're not free.
So this is for the family who DON'T have the money to buy a simple stethoscope, but DO have the money to buy a Windows smart phone?

Also it seems to be a cloud app? So not only do you have to pay for the phone, you have to pay for the data plan to go with it???

Seriously? Why wouldn't you buy a manual stethoscope and a tape or cd to learn to use it. Then use all the money you save to buy decent food and clothing and medicine for your kid so they don't get pneumonia in the first place!

Re:Stethoscope costs $520 (1)

Cenan (1892902) | about a year and a half ago | (#41128675)

Well the number of phones to number of kids doesn't have to be 1:1, so you might get away with diagnosing a hundred kids with the same phone. The $20 price comes from being able to diagnose pneumonia without a medical degree i guess.

Re:Stethoscope costs $520 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41128689)

...but you still can't prescribe treatment. And if you're diagnosing without the ability to prescribe treatment, the best you can hope for is that you can convince the person who *can* prescribe treatment that your diagnosis is accurate. And since the person doing the treatment is legally responsible for treating the correct diagnosis, they'll have to verify it personally anyway.

The real benefit of a non-provider using this might simply being getting a kid into see the provider sooner, but it seems to be aimed more at the providers.

Linux is to blame (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41128637)

Most computer experts now agree that Linux is, without exception, less secure and less reliable than commercial alternatives such as Mac OS X Server. However, many IT departments insist on using the "free" software, which they rationalize to management by pointing out the initial cost difference, because they have a perverse incentive to do so. A reliable operating system would mean less maintenance work and therefore cuts to IT budgets.

It's well known that Mac OS doesn't get viruses, but many Fortune 500 companies are still using the hackers' choice for operating systems (based on its open, easy to penetrate nature) because of this IT department scam.

How many more critical life support systems have to go offline?

Re:Linux is to blame (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41128951)

Holy unwarranted trolling batman!

Re:Linux is to blame (1)

tg123 (1409503) | about a year and a half ago | (#41134229)

Can someone mod this guy as Troll -1 I know negativity is bad but this looks like advertising

Stethoscope (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a year and a half ago | (#41128771)

They make it seem like this is some revolutionary new way to identify pneumonia and is better than anything we currentally have. But it just turns a cheap microphone into a crappy stethoscope.

Re:Stethoscope (1)

tg123 (1409503) | about a year and a half ago | (#41134215)

They make it seem like this is some revolutionary new way to identify pneumonia and is better than anything we currentally have. But it just turns a cheap microphone into a crappy stethoscope.

You forgot to add the Million dollars of Doctors training also connected to said scope and its not just a crappy stethoscope it is a measuring device used day to day by medical professionals.

This app turns a (smart? its running windows) mobile and crappy microphone into Expert recommendations this means you and I could diagnose this condition as well as a medical professional with years of training.

And rats for tuberculosis (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | about a year and a half ago | (#41128911)

Even more low tech are the HeroRATS, originally trained to sniff out landmines in Mozambique, now being trained to detect the presence of TB in sputim samples. Sometimes a low tech solution works when a high tech solution falls short. However, since pneumonia is fluid on the lungs and not always caused by a single bacteria, maybe the high tech solution of a stethoscope is better in this case.

Hopefully The Longevity Advances... (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about a year and a half ago | (#41128947)

Can be augmented by parallel advances in food & fresh water distribution so we're not keeping more citizens of developing nations alive to starve later.

Re:Hopefully The Longevity Advances... (1)

amorsen (7485) | about a year and a half ago | (#41131837)

World population growth is currently 1% a year. If humanity cannot get 1% better at growing food every year, we deserve to die out.

Growth rate is falling, so it will get even easier in the future.

horrific truths (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41129005)

i know this is wildly unpopular but if we were to save everyone born from dying of disease, it's going to send the global population through the roof. we've already cheated nature's population control methods plenty and now the human population unsustainable without so very many people suffering. we arent exactly doing the planet a favor by saving everyone that may die.

i get it, it sucks but this is the truth of the matter. if someone has a solution, i would love to hear it.

captcha: vampire
yeah, vampires could help.

Re:horrific truths (1)

couchslug (175151) | about a year and a half ago | (#41129589)

"i get it, it sucks but this is the truth of the matter. if someone has a solution, i would love to hear it."

The quest to save and perpetuate every human doesn't have a purpose beyond being a life-affirming gesture. There is no need for a "solution" because there is really no problem.

smartphones are quickly becoming common (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41129147)

which cost the same price as a digital stethoscope? maybe a couple of smartphones to the digital stethoscope or something... so pneumonia should already be easily diagnosed? in the 1st world as well since doctors should have easy enough access to the existing technology? this is badass but is it really that hard right now to detect it?

of course education th'm doc/nurses is out (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41129625)

This is silly if the death is so common place education seems more reasonable. I rather not see the world were only some place s could be trusted to know what top killers test results are some where else. Is their something that these people can do? If not then does not seem to matter how correctly someone in the first world can tell them yes or no. Sadly the greatness of the 16th of Europe birth can be seen in the depopulation of the black dealth.

caveat from physician (1)

jds91md (2439128) | about a year and a half ago | (#41130633)

Impressive to read that folks are developing a digital listening device for the chest of children to aid in the diagnosis of pneumonia. But what isn't shared here is that listening (or "auscultation") is quite inaccurate for the diagnosis of pneumonia when done by expert humans called doctors. Maybe a machine could do better, I don't know. But just aspiring to be as good as a human doctor's ears is not good enough. --JSt

Not the only smartphone project. (1)

godel_56 (1287256) | about a year and a half ago | (#41131231)

This is only one of many similar add-ons to a smart phone, where a small investment in extra hardware turns a smart phone into some piece of lab or medical equipment. I can recall seeing articles about dermascopes and microscopes as just two examples.

So with just one smart phone and maybe $150 a rural doctor could have a small portable laboratory. It is curious that they've chosen a Windows phone to work on. You'd think Android phones would be much more common in isolated areas.

Here's one for the self diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections by analyzing a urine sample:

http://www.gizmag.com/self-diagnosis-sti-system-via-mobile-phone-being-developed/16873/

$620 stethoscope (1)

jsepeta (412566) | about a year and a half ago | (#41136093)

$20 for the stethoscope mic. $600 for the smartphone. How is that cheap? it's only cheap when you add more apps & plugin devices to the phone.

Useless project (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41160175)

Pneumonia can't be diagnosed relying only in auscultation. You need an compatible history and compatible lung x-ray signs. A good stethoscope, at least like littman classic II will perform better and cheaper than a smartphone and you don't need to recharge or pay a monthly bill. A doctor with proper training and physical examination skills is still necessary.
The problem in these countries should be lack of infrastructure, a working x-ray machine and films or insufficient access to health services namely unavailability of free care and medications and lnsufficient doctors where people need.

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