How an iPhone can monitor COVID-19 infections

Butterfly Networks has developed an ultrasound scanner for iPhones that is being used in the struggle against the pandemic.

Apple, iOS, iPhone, iPad, digital medicine, Butterfly, Butterfly Networks, FDA

iPhone-based remote medical diagnosis systems for fractures and diseases including COVID-19 may only be a few testing cycles away, as a solution from Butterfly Network is seeing use during the pandemic.

Remote diagnostics take a big step forward

U.S-based Butterfly Network has created an iPhone accessory that turns your smartphone into the equivalent of an ultrasound machine, making this essential life-saving analysis tech much easier to deploy in new environments.

The system was demonstrated at WWDC 2019.

It consists of a handheld ultrasound scanner that is connected to an iPhone via the Lightning port to collect ultrasound images using the accompanying TeleGuidance app.  (The app works on recent iPhones, iPads and Macs. The scanner itself also works with Android.)

Under FDA rules, a trained medical professional needed to be with the patient in order to make the scan, but these rules have been temporarily relaxed during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Now, it is possible for doctors to perform ultrasound scans using the device remotely, guiding the patient through the process. You can find a little more concerning how these solutions are being used in real-world medical situations during the pandemic here

In a statement revealing the news, Dr. John Martin, Butterfly’s Chief Medical Officer, explains:

“We will be able to bring the expertise of the physician to the patient instead of the other way around. This is critical in these times and extremely valuable for the future transformation of care.”

Atrium Health is already using these devices. Dr. Rasu Shrestha, executive vice president, and chief strategy and transformation officer at Atrium, sees the benefits of the system, “…going well beyond the current pandemic. Our teams are already using it to provide care for heart patients, and we anticipate this device ushering in a new era of frontline care.”

Better tools for frontline care

This introduction of more effective tools for frontline care is also a compelling illustration of how iPhones and other mobile devices are becoming integral components for healthcare provision.

We’re already accustomed to digital consultations and tools to track activity levels, but the Butterfly system also shows us how these devices will eventually drive collections of important diagnostic tools – just as your Apple Watch picks up extensive quantities of health and heart information.

Ultimately, this should democratize the diagnosis and provision of healthcare, enabling the kinds of tools you once needed to visit a hospital to access to become smaller and more portable. This should improve access in remote communities, for example.  

The company has improved its TeleGuidance software to enable remote monitoring, said Laurent Faracci, Butterfly’s CEO:

“To support the FDA’s new policies, we accelerated our efforts to build a breakthrough telemedicine solution for ultrasound at home under the prescription and supervision of a trained practitioner.”

TeleGuidance leverages an array of leading-edge and easy-to-use augmented reality guiding tools to allow trained practitioners to perform an ultrasound scan without being next to the patient.

Respecting social distancing guidelines, the scanning process can be handled by a trained assistant sent on-site with the equipment, or a close family member – all they need to do is follow the instructions. You’ll find out more here.

This isn’t the only illustration of how mobile devices may be of use. Apple and Google’s work to find a way to deliver actionable outbreak data while also protecting user privacy and Gauss Surgical’s solution that enables more effective and safer ways to improve the testing procedure are both good examples of this.

The future won’t entirely be defined by the pandemic, but it is showing us how the mobile tools and devices we use can be extended to provide solutions to this and other future problems. It seems likely that one day an iPhone will be as useful a tool in the doctor’s kit as a stethoscope.

Updated in line with guidance: The system is used to monitor the progress/condition of COVID-19. 

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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