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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 15 August 2018

Monitor your health on a smartphone

Palestinian Haya Raed and Syrian Basel Safieh, both 20, used their phones and specific algorithms to record the level of oxygen when a patient exhales to look for symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

SHARJAH // Smartphones are great for texting, chatting on social media or surfing the web.

Now a group of students from the American University of Sharjah have discovered their iPhones have hidden talents that when used correctly can detect and monitor cases of lung disease in patients.

A run-of-the-mill iPhone has 20 or more sensors, most of which are never utilised but can pick up anything from shock and impact to activity levels. Palestinian Haya Raed and Syrian Basel Safieh, both 20, used their phones and specific algorithms to record the level of oxygen when a patient exhales to look for symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“It’s an extremely underdiagnosed disease,” said Ms Raed, who was born and raised in the UAE. “We wanted to find a disease we could detect using the sensors in the phone.”

COPD is found mostly in smokers, who make up about 23 per cent of the UAE population. About 2 per cent of the population have been diagnosed with the disease although by the time a diagnosis is reached, a patient can already have lost 50 to 60 per cent of their lung function.

The students tested 27 people, one of whom was asthmatic, and compared the findings from their phones with those gathered by a spirometer used in hospitals to monitor a patient’s deterioration.

They found there was just 6 per cent difference in the findings.

“We are very happy with that, although we would really like access to patients,” said Ms Raed. The students also used a six-minute walking test to examine the sample study.

“Using an oxymeter, we can measure the heart rate and oxygen levels in the blood and then send the results to the phone via bluetooth,” Mr Safieh said: “Using the GPS you can keep track of the distance walked and with that monitor a patient’s progress or deterioration.”

Unlike asthma, which has similar symptoms such as shortness of breath and coughing, COPD cannot be treated using an inhaler and at its worst patients must be constantly linked to an oxygen tank.

“These projects use smartphones to detect health issues at an early stage in a cheap way,” said Dr Fadi Aloul, one of two supervising academics with Dr Assim Sagahyroon.

Sufferers are often unable to buy a spirometer for their home because the equipment costs between Dh3,600 and Dh14,600. With this kind of smartphone technology, a patient could simply use their iPhone, register with the website the students have set up, register with a medical practitioner through the site and regularly update their data and be monitored on a regular basis, with the doctor concerned able to be notified immediately of any significant changes.

Dr Aloul, an Emirati, said support and funding was vital to get such ideas off the ground. “There are many apps on the market but it’s a case of awareness. If the Ministry of Health had a website that listed working apps that they recommended, it would also help people use them and reduce the load on medical centres.”

mswan@thenational.ae

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