Diagnose an ear infection from home? CellScope says it could happen within a year

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Three in four children will have an ear infection before the age of three, and ear infections are the most common reason parents take their children to a doctor. That’s a lot of visits to the doctor, many of which end with the doctor prescribing an antibiotic or recommending watchful waiting.

Enter CellScope Inc., a West Coast startup using telemedicine and mobile technology to create a solution for diagnosing ear infections remotely.

CellScope’s at-home diagnostic system comprises an optical attachment for a cellphone along with an app. When attached and running, the system would turn the phone into a mobile otoscope, which parents would use to capture photos of the insides of their child’s ear.

Co-founder Erik Douglas said the app ensures the photos are set at the right exposure and then transmits them to CellScope’s web platform, where they can be accessed by a physician.


The device, CellScope says, would reduce unnecessary trips to the doctor. If a diagnosis could be made using the images taken remotely, a prescription could be called in. Or the physician could request that the child come to the office for an exam.  Or they could recommend waiting, if they don’t think an infection is present.

Fresh off a $1.1 million seed round last month, the company is testing its device with a few doctors in the Bay area and working with the Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium and Emory University to do some clinical validation testing to evaluate whether the mobile otoscope produces images of comparable quality to the physician’s otoscope.

The $11.6 billion global telemedicine market, which is expected to almost triple by 2016, is innovation-ready. And ear pain is the top reason parents take their children to the doctor (although the number of infections has dropped nearly 30 percent over the last 15 years).

But don’t get too excited yet – the device is still a work in progress. Testing will continue over the next six to nine months, Douglas said, and the company is still figuring out what features the initial product will include. For example, he said one of the company’s goals is to enable these images to be collected and reviewed over time, whether that’s by enabling them to be integrated into an EMR or by developing a feature that’s unique to the system.

Plus, there are still some questions that need to be answered. “I think physician compensation is definitely an issue,” Douglas said. “We’re starting out by looking at systems with integrated delivery networks, where they’re already compensated for their time.”

And a business model? “That’s still evolving as well,” Douglas added.

Still, the company hopes to have the device on the market within a year.

Having originally developed the technology in Prof. Dan Fletcher’s lab at UC Berkley as an affordable tool for developing countries, the company is also pursuing applications in remote diagnosis of skin conditions and disease.

CellScope was part of Rock Health’s inaugural accelerator program.

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Deanna Pogorelc

By Deanna Pogorelc MedCity News

Deanna Pogorelc is a Cleveland-based reporter who writes obsessively about life science startups across the country, looking to technology transfer offices, startup incubators and investment funds to see what’s next in healthcare. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University and previously covered business and education for a northeast Indiana newspaper.
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