Will your phone be replacing your annual physical exam? Last month, the tech world was abuzz with news about an app and smart-phone adaptor that has the potential to perform a basic urine analysis in a matter of minutes.
The technology uses a digital fluorescent reader mounted on a phone’s camera to measure the level of albumin in an individual’s urine. Albumin is a protein and its persistent presence in the urine means that the kidneys have been damaged — it is one of the two primary tests for chronic kidney disease.
This new development in the world of handheld devices is promising because it shows that science and technology is rising up to the massive public health challenge that is chronic kidney disease. It is estimated that over 72 million Americans with high blood pressure today are at risk for developing kidney disease, while more than 26 million American adults already have kidney disease. However, most people don’t know they have kidney disease and even more don’t realize they are at risk. The more we can do to address this problem at the public level, the easier it will be to get people to take proactive steps to monitor and preserve their kidney health.
This technology is promising, but it’s not a replacement for an annual exam or interpretation by a clinician, especially if you are already at risk for kidney disease. While millions could soon be performing phone-based kidney checkups from the comfort of their home, in the end we can only hope this will actually increase the amount of people who step outside and get to their health care practitioners early.
Dr. Joseph A. Vassalotti is the Chief Medical Officer of the National Kidney Foundation.