Wednesday, July 27, 2011

(Almost) Free Medical Advice

A recent news story about the use of smart phones as heart monitors reminds me of an idea along similar lines that I recently had.

There are a variety of medical conditions, such as Alzheimers or a brain tumor, that cause a gradual decrease in mental performance, gradual enough so that the victim may not notice it. Early warning of such a condition could be very valuable.

Many people, faced with a few minutes of boredom, pull out a cell phone and play a game. It should be straightforward to add to such a game the ability to monitor some simple measure of player performance such as reaction speed that, under most circumstances, is reasonably stable over time. If the measure trends down for longer than, say, a month, a message goes to the phone's owner, suggesting that he see a doctor. Just in case.

It doesn't work for everyone. It doesn't watch for everything that might go wrong. But the cost is negligible and the potential payoff from detecting a tumor or early stage Parkinson's tomorrow instead of next year could be large.


RKN said...

See also:

One big problem to overcome with these "detectors" will be false positives. But promising nonetheless.

During my PhD work, which focued on human colorectal cancer, I once jokingly proposed the "Colophone". A smartphone device with an extendable "antenna", actually a plug 'n play colonscope, which could be self-fed into the colon and the resulting video recorded on the phone, and optionally ftp'd to your gastroenterologist for evaluation.

I imagined that ease of use might increase compliance for early detection of colorectal cancer ;-)

John said...

It looks like the government wants to regulate these phone apps. Another good idea thwarted.

Michael Kolczynski said...

Brain Age on the Nintendo DS fits that profile for the most part.

Brad said...

Great... I'm sure I'll let my 4-year-old play *one* game, and then the phone will think I've got Alzheimer's.

Raphfrk said...

It shouldn't be that much of an issue to eliminate outliers.

The idea is that a single person would have a reasonably stable performance over time (at least that is the selection criterion for the measurement).

Even if two people use the phone, it shouldn't be that much of an issue to separate the 2,unless they have similar performance.

maurile said...

Seth Roberts has had the same idea. He does a daily arithmetic test (mentioned, e.g., here and here), but has mentioned that playing a simple online game could serve the same function. (I can't find the link, but he mentioned a specific game sometime within the last month or two on his blog.)

maurile said...

Roberts discusses his arithmetic test in this video:

Anonymous said...

I like what RKN’s idea. For years I've said that the next generation of self-care monitors needs to be at-home medical devices that connect to the charging port of your iPhone or through the USB port of your computer. Images and results could be emailed to your physician. One probe could slide in your mouth so your doctor can view your throat. Another could insert in your ear canal to check for fluid behind the ear drum. As RKN suggests, an anal probe could be used to check for colon cancer.

The only problem I foresee is making sure you don't mixed up get the aforementioned medical devices like in the movie Idiocracy. ;-)