Two applications, Ear Trumpet and Eye Chart hint at the promise of mobile medical applications to enhance the traditional instruments for hearing and vision testing.
Eye Chart Pro
Eye Chart Pro (iTunes link) is a clever implementation of the classic Snellen eye chart for use on an the iPad. It will also work as a quick “pocket” eye chart on the iPhone. As shown in the screenshot, the implementation is recognizable to anybody who has ever been in the doctor’s office. In practice, the clinician is supposed to hold the screen 10 feet from the patient in order to get an accurate assessment of visual acuity. In contrast to a paper chart, the letters can be randomized so patients cannot memorize the letters. Users can upgrade via an in-app purchase of $3.99 to a premium version which allows for smaller letters, which allows testing from five feet, as well as other features. The non-premium version is free, although the App store currently has it labeled as a “Limited Offer”.
The app has been one of the most popular medical apps on the website, likely in some part due to the fact it was available at the launch of the iPad. The developer (web page) states the app was the #1 medical app for two months and is being “used all over the country”. The Orange County register recently reported highlighted the app as part of a photo series on the iPad integration into UC Irvine medical school curriculum.
Ear Trumpet (iTunes link) is an application with even more ambitious goals. It aims to provide hearing enhancement and testing tools using the earphones of an iPhone – in essence a small audiology lab. The app was developed by a medical student in conjunction with the UC Irvine Department of Otolaryngology (developer site) and brings together a suite of tools to test hearing across various frequencies. It allows the user to select the level of testing detail, ranging from one minute to five minutes. According to the developer:
Preliminary studies have demonstrated the high accuracy of the included hearing test and the benefit of the hearing enhancer. We are now confident in releasing the application for public use. The features will continue to be further refined through clinical studies
The hearing enhancement uses the built-in microphone on the supplied iPhone ear buds and allows the user to select which frequencies to boost. One can choose the left or right ear to amplify and even store custom profiles once balance and equalization settings have been selected. The impressive tutorial can be viewed on YouTube (link).
Together with the digital stethoscope, of which several alternatives have been reviewed on this site., Eye Chart Pro and Ear Trumpet are examples of medical applications which enhance the physical exam and hint at a very different physician tool kit in years to come.