Capsule endoscopy is a unique procedure in which a patient swallows a tiny, pill-shaped wireless camera to take pictures of his or her digestive tract. The miniature camera module takes tens of thousands of pictures that are transmitted to a digital recorder and helps to diagnose countless gastro-intestinal conditions, including polyps, cancer, and celiac disease. This technology is increasingly replacing the more costly surgical and radiological procedures that were once used. Capsule endoscopy truly revolutionized the medical evaluation of the small intestine.
A pill-sized wireless camera module can be swallowed for a non-invasive endoscopy.
Although the endoscopy pill camera technology has been groundbreaking since its inception, its increasing popularity has led to the desire for some improvements. For example, positioning the camera module on the side of the device (instead of the end) would garner improved circumferential perspective, and improved optics in the compact camera module would provide higher quality images. New products are currently in development, and we are anticipating some exciting new technology for which we could help improve camera capabilities.
According to a new market research report, “Smart Pill Technology Market (2012-2017)” published by MarketsandMarkets, the smart pill technology market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17 percent, reaching $965 million by the year 2017. This market includes “pills” that use camera technology or sensors to identify conditions in the digestive tract. SmartPill, a capsule product that measures pH, pressure and temperature in the gastrointestinal tract with a sensor, was recently bought by Given Imaging, a pioneer in capsule endoscopy, for $6 million. Currently, the PillCam by Given Imaging and the EndoCapsule by Olympus Medical Systems are leaders in this category, but the latest research, at our very own Brigham & Women’s Hospital, appears to include camera pills with motors to better steer through a digestive tract.
In an election year, there is always a great deal of healthcare talk, usually about how to improve the system. In those debates, technology typically plays a background role. To add to the banter, we’d like to ask few questions about the latest medical camera technology, and how it will affect the healthcare system, like: how can medical imaging cameras help to streamline diagnoses? And how could new digital camera module technologies help save us money?
Miniature digital camera modules embedded in medical devices such as otoscopes (for ears) and dermatoscopes (for skin) can be used to take a photo at each medical appointment. The embedded cameras are exciting because the images can immediately be magnified for improved diagnosis, examined by your doctor, and then saved. Each patient’s images will be archived in a digital record that can later be referenced to help clarify his or her medical history. One company producing such digital cameras is Firefly Global, which we read about in the New York Times earlier this year.
In addition to having expandable images available for immediate analysis and for future reference, some digital medical imaging cameras can be hooked up to mobile devices for remote doctor consultations. For instance, parents of toddlers with a predisposition toward ear infections (the most common diagnosis among preschoolers) can use their smartphone cameras and medical imaging attachments to send a photo of their child’s ear drum to the doctor and receive a diagnosis remotely.
It was recently announced that researchers at Georgia Tech and Emory University have developed a new pediatric medical device that they have dubbed the Remotoscope. It turns an iPhone into a digital otoscope (to examine ears) and consists of a clip-on lens attachment and a custom software app, but also uses the iPhone’s camera and flash. The software controls the camera’s magnification and records data to the phone. The iPhone easily processes the videos or images so that they can be sent straight to a patient’s medical record or to a doctor’s inbox.
Remotoscope in use. Photo credit: Atlanta Pediatric Device Consortium
According to these researchers, the need for the Remotoscope is vast due to the overwhelming numbers of pediatric ear infections seen annually – 30 million in the United States alone. Clearly this technology has fantastic potential to help save millions of parents a trip to the hospital, pediatrician, or emergency room, as well as save health care organizations on expensive and time-consuming diagnosis and follow-up care.