UW app offers less invasive, cheaper anemia screening option

Person holding an iPhone

University of Washington engineers and computer scientists have created a mobile app that uses a smartphone camera to analyze and measure hemoglobin in a quest for a faster, cheaper approach in diagnosing anemia.

The HemaApp, according to a UW Today article, works as well as the current, more expensive approach that involves using a finger sensor.

“In developing countries, community health workers have so much specialized equipment to monitor different conditions that they literally have whole bags full of devices,” lead author Edward Wang told UW Today. “We are trying to make these screening tools work on one ubiquitous platform--a smartphone."

The app uses the camera’s flash to determine blood color for estimating hemoglobin levels, and also relies on algorithms to record information. The approach is partly due to advanced infrared and LED phone capabilities, though it will work with external light sources as well.

The software/smartphone innovation is just the latest for UW researchers. In 2014, a UW-Southern Methodist University study revealed how a smartphone camera-based device, called the BiliCam, was cited as a less invasive and more affordable approach to identifying newborn jaundice.

The HemaApp is not aimed at replacing blood tests, but may serve as a more affordable initial anemia screening tool.

“Anemia is one of the most common problems affecting adults and children worldwide,” co-author Doug Hawkins, a UW Medicine, Seattle Children’s Hospital and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance pediatric cancer specialist, said in the article. “The ability to screen quickly with a smartphone-based test could be a huge improvement to delivering care in limited-resource environments.”

In the future researchers aim to conduct a larger testing of the app and updates to boost its accuracy.