Reuters Health Information: Smartphone app may allow parents to screen newborns for jaundice
Smartphone app may allow parents to screen newborns for jaundice
Last Updated: 2014-09-22
By Rob Goodier
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new smartphone application
still in development may someday help parents and health care
providers screen for jaundice in newborns.
Early testing found that the application has greater
accuracy than visual exams by doctors, according to research
presented September 16 at the International Joint Conference on
Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp 2014) in Seattle,
Dr. James Taylor, a pediatrician at the University of
Seattle who is helping to develop the technology, told Reuters
Health by email that when it's ready for release, the BiliCam's
performance might compare to that of the much more expensive
"We think that BiliCam will be useful by relieving anxiety
of parents about jaundice," Dr. Taylor said. It will also
provide an inexpensive, reliable tool to help doctors triage
newborns with jaundice, he added.
His team believes the BiliCam will reduce healthcare costs
by earlier identification of babies who need treatment, when
it's easier and cheaper to deliver it.
The BiliCam could also allow parents to monitor their
newborns' health at home simply by taking pictures of the baby
with their phone camera's flash turned on. The parent or
clinician first places a "color calibrator," a sheet the size of
a business card printed with eight blocks of different colors,
on the baby's chest. The software processes the images, adjusts
color and white balance, accounts for different lighting
conditions and skin tones, and then gives a report.
Tests with data from 100 newborns show that the BiliCam
correlates closely to blood tests of total serum bilirubin, at a
rank order correlation coefficient of 0.85. At that degree of
correlation it bests a visual examination, which correlates to
the blood test in a coefficient range of 0.35 to 0.75.
Past research shows that doctors using the visual method may
also tend to underestimate the degree of jaundice, which may be
of particular concern, the researchers say.
The BiliCam's performance may also put it in the same league
as the transcutaneous bilirubinometer, which correlates well
with the blood test, said Lilian de Greef, a doctoral student in
computer science and engineering at the University of Washington
who is involved in developing the technology.
An at-home test like the BiliCam may be important for
parents, given the high rate of jaundice in newborns.
"Because the majority of all newborns have some level of
jaundice . . . and because jaundice doesn't tend to peak until
babies are at home with their families (out of the nursery) at
day of life 3 or 4, having access to this app will provide a
chance for families to access data without a trip to the clinic,
hospital, or birthing center," Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson said.
"This really puts the power of diagnostics into the patient
and family's hands and that's earnest opportunity for improved
health care driven by patients," said Swanson, a pediatrician
and executive director of Digital Health at Seattle Children's
Hospital, who is familiar with BiliCam but is not involved in
developing the application.
The BiliCam is not quite ready to roll out, however. The
researchers are tackling issues like how to display the results
of the test and how to tweak the color calibration card to make
it more accurate and user friendly.
"Currently, everything we developed was mostly to collect
data and process them for our evaluation. There's still lots of
work to be done on how to present everything for users like
parents," de Greef said.
When they think it is ready, the researchers plan a phased
release, first to clinicians and then to parents.
"We think that parents will use BiliCam like they use
thermometers now. Instead of just knowing that their baby looks
jaundiced they will have an estimate of the bilirubin level that
can be (reported) to the baby's healthcare provider," Taylor
The BiliCam research was funded in part by Coulter
Foundation and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research
A full copy of the paper presented at the meeting is
available from the Association for Computing Machinery, at http://bit.ly/1shPIML.