Posted by Allison Boyer

A team from the University of Notre Dame has developed the first iPad app to help you diagnose concussions. Is this the future of healthcare? 

A team at University of Notre Dame has developed the very first app for diagnosing traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) using voice recognition. Currently, there are 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports-related TBIs every year, including 300,000 among young athletes. This app could help diagnose concussions and other TBIs faster, helping those with injuries avoid long-term problems. In addition, there are non-athletic applications to this app, including helping diagnose TBIs in the field for members of the military.

The way the app works is actually pretty simple. The users, in this case players before a game, speak a specific set of words and phrases into the tablet. If a TBI is suspected, the user speaks the same set of phrases and the app compares the two, looking for common indicators of injury like distorted vowels, hyper nasality and imprecise consonants. You don’t have to be a doctor or even know what to look for in order for the app to work, which makes it a particularly helpful tool at places like high school sporting events.

Not only has this app proven to be extremely accurate, but it also eliminates the problem of athletes trying to fake results to stay in the game. It’s also low cost, since all you need is an iPad, and it’s portable; the app can go with you, which will be helpful for parents, soldiers, and many other potential users.

The biggest question, though, is this: should we rely on technology to diagnose serious problems? Way too many people already rely on WebMD or Google their symptoms when they should actually see a doctor. Are diagnosis apps only perpetuating this problem?

What’s important to understand is that this app (and others like it) are tools, not end-all answers to diagnosing and treating health problems. Apps can, and will, help catch injuries that might otherwise be missed in the field, but users should be educated to understand that these injuries require follow up with a medical professional. This education is especially important if this app is released to the general public as a download. As co-creator Christian Poellabauer notes in the video above, this app is a first line of defense to catch injuries that would have otherwise been missed. If an injury is suspected, the person should be immediately checked by a medical professional no matter what the app says.

It’s exciting to see how this app is currently being used and tested by boxers for Notre Dame. Medical diagnosing apps, with proper education, could really change the healthcare industry and shape the future of diagnosing, not only for athletes, but also for people around the world. Imagine, for example, how diagnosing apps could be used by scientists and researchers working in remote areas. Imagine how they could be used on fishing vessels that are out to sea for weeks at a time (or even longer). Imagine the impact that diagnosing apps could have on villages in developing nations where trained medical professionals are not readily available!

And here you thought your iPad was just for Angry Birds…

Allison Boyer is the Online Education Coordinator for NMX University, where you can learn more about blogging, podcasting, web TV, and social business. She also runs the food blog The PinterTest Kitchen with her mom and sister.