mHealth helps to identify infant jaundice

A smartphone may soon replace the traditional diagnostic approach in identifying newborn jaundice and allow for home-based monitoring and screening for the condition that impacts an estimated 84 percent of newborns, according to a study by researchers at the University of Washington and Southern Methodist University.

The mHealth innovation, called the BiliCam, uses the phone's camera and a paper-based color calibration card to monitor for jaundice, a condition that results in a yellow discoloration of a newborn's skin caused by excess bilirubin, a chemical byproduct of recycling old blood cells. Jaundice is traditionally identified by a visual exam, blood tests and a special measuring device, called a transcutaneous bilirubinometer (TcB) that can only be used in a medical setting. However, a newborn's bilirubin level can peak well after hospital discharge and go undetected. Extreme levels can lead to serious health effects including brain damage, deafness, profound development delay and possible death, according to the study's authors.

"BiliCam could become an effective screening tool comparable to a TcB. Unlike current screening techniques, it also offers distinct cost and accessibility advantages that make it appropriate for screening newborns in the comforts of their own homes," states the study.

"This smartphone test is really for babies in the first few days after they go home. A parent or healthcare provider can get an accurate picture of bilirubin to bridge the gap after leaving the hospital," James Taylor, a UW professor of pediatrics and medical director of the newborn nursery at UW Medical Center, said in a study announcement.

Similar mobile monitoring tools are being increasingly adopted across a wide sector of treatment and diagnostic environments. A new smartphone app may make pediatric vision photo screening a more effective diagnostic approach for identifying potential risk factors tied to vision loss long before a child's vision impairment is typically noticed. Diabetics in low to modest socioeconomic communities are benefiting from patient coaching via smartphone when it comes to managing their disease and improving their health.

The jaundice study involved 100 newborn participants. The BiliCam demonstrated statistically equivalent performance as the TcB for identifying high risk cases, and results indicate it could have a very similar utility to TcB as a screening tool, with the advantage of greater accessibility, according to the study.

To learn more:
- read the study
- read the announcement

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