Say what? An iPhone tool to diagnose ear infection?

shutterstock_195954584If you’re the parent of a child plagued with frequent ear infections, an iPhone otoscope that lets you peek into her ears to capture a video of her eardrum and share the images with her doctor may sound like just the gadget you need.

The CellScope, the iPhone otoscope mentioned above, and the Pacif-i, a Bluetooth pacifier that takes a baby’s temperature, were on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this month. The Las Vegas-based annual trade fair, a weeklong playdate for gadgetphiles, included a host of devices designed to make it easier for parents to track their kids’ health.

Do you need an iPhone otoscope? Will a sneak peek at your daughter’s eardrum translate into better or faster care for your toddler? Is your child’s pediatrician ready to view home video of your daughter’s eardrum? Probably not, at least for now.

There is some value in the devices, especially if your child has a chronic issue, according to Michael Docktor, MD, Boston Children’s Hospital’s clinical director of innovation and director of clinical mobile solutions. Docktor was on hand at CES to check out the hundreds of health and biotech gadgets on display at this year’s show. “For me, it was a chance to see where medicine and health care are headed,” Docktor wrote on BetaBoston.

But the gadget fest offers more of a sneak peek at the future of care, rather than a new way to diagnose and treat sick kids.

The otoscope, for instance, may be a helpful first-line screening tool for some parents. But if you expect your pediatrician to diagnose an ear infection and prescribe antibiotics based on an iPhone video, you may want to hold off before rushing to your local electronics retailer to restock your medicine cabinet.

“Most of these aren’t clinical-grade devices,” cautions Docktor.

“This is a look at where medicine is going. We’re arming parents and patients with devices they’ve never had access to, which is wonderful. But medicine is very slow to adopt new technology. While Docktor believes the future of medicine will embrace telemedicine and many of these consumer-friendly devices, there remain barriers including uncertainties around security and reliability of the data, billing for these services and unanswered questions about liability and medical licensure for virtual care.

The upshot? Although some parents of kids with chronic conditions may find these devices provide a helpful first-line screening tool, often intuition works equally well. If you think your child’s cries sound like an ear infection or red cheeks look like a high fever, use your iPhone … to call your pediatrician.