Smartphone photo quality good enough for telemedicine consults

Telemedicine is increasing the popularity of image-based consultation, so researchers in Sweden and South Africa set out to determine whether photos from smartphones could be trusted for clinical diagnosis, according to a study at Telemedicine and e-Health.

In short, they determined the answer is yes.

They recruited 60 non-clinicians to rate photos that were "neutral"--not of clinical subjects--in order to not mix the notions of image quality and value in diagnosis. The photos were of nature or objects such as a hand or truck.

All photos were taken during daylight, without a flash and at equal distance from the camera. The researchers used three smartphones: the iPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy S2 and BlackBerry 9800. The photos, taken by a professional photographer, were compared with those from a digital camera, the Canon Mark II, which was considered the "gold standard." The images were not digitally enhanced or retouched.

The researchers specifically chose current, but not the latest, generations of widely used smartphone models on the grounds that they are more likely to be in use in resource-poor settings where expert consultation may be required.

Participants were asked to rate the photos on five criteria--focus, resolution, contrast, color and composition--and to chose those they considered the best.

The iPhone had the highest individual ratings, with 72.7 percent of its photos rated as good or excellent. The Apple device also ranked best for more photo subjects, including those from the digital camera. Overall, the ratings of photos from the Samsung or the BlackBerry smartphone did not significantly differ from those of the digital camera.

With all of the phones boasting photo quality on par with the digital camera, the researchers concluded that smartphone cameras can be a substitute for digital cameras for medical teleconsulation.

The Army has long used telemedicine for specialties such as dermatology in remote locations. University of Pennsylvania researchers found a smartphone app as reliable and efficient for prioritizing teledermatology consultations as in-person visits.

Meanwhile, a high-resolution data imaging system that snaps onto a standard handset may soon be tomorrow's mobile cancer detector, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To learn more:
- read the research