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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

June 20, 2012 at 1:05 PM

Startup, UW docs collaborate on very personal app

You’d think the last thing the world needs is an iPhone app that guys can use to take pictures of themselves in full glory.

But there is a medical purpose for the self-recording app that’s the latest product of Seattle App Lab, a startup working with the University of Washington Department of Urology.

Its app also provides an interesting look at navigating the privacy challenges around using personal mobile devices for medical purposes.

It’s designed to help people affected Peyronie’s disease, which “is characterized by a deformity or curvature of the penis with a buildup of scar-like tissue that can make intercourse painful or even impossible,” the company noted in its release.

Capturing data about the condition is something men may prefer to do at home rather than in a clinic.

The iPhone app can be used to create a sort of diary for monitoring changes in the curvature over time. Patients then present this diary to doctors.

“It’s really a tool for the doctors,” said John Nelson, App Lab president.

The condition affects millions of men each year, Dr. Thomas Walsh, UW assistant professor of urology, said in a release.

“Unfortunately, the current tools that we have available for both diagnosis and treatment are limited,” he said. “Placing this device in the hands of urologists and men in need will truly advance this area of medicine and surgery — it will allow patients and doctors alike to make the most informed and personalized decisions about the treatment of their disease.”

This is delicate territory, with considerable privacy issues, so the app won’t be used to transmit images. Instead they’ll be recorded on the patient’s phone and presented in person to the doctor.

The photos are also masked, so the diary displays a sort of gray cylinder.

“You’re not saving actual photos,” Nelson explained.

The app will be submitted to Apple for distribution through iTunes by August. It will be free and available to anyone, whether or not they are UW urology patients. Versions for other platforms may come later.

App Lab, a mobile technology consultancy, was started in January. Nelson said it hopes to specialize in medical diagnostic tools.

Nelson sidestepped my questions about whether the company will repurpose the software for less serious applications.

“It could work for diagnosing any kind of body deformity,” he said.

Comments | More in | Topics: Apple, Apps, Education

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