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12th December 2014

Tongue test helps out those far from a doctor

Sometimes it’s just a cold. But sometimes it’s a fever that refuses to go away, coughing tantrums, or lasting chest pain. It’s probably time to pay your doctor a visit.

But imagine you live in a tiny village in rural India where you could be hours of travel from a clinic. On second thought, you’ll probably skip.

Researchers in Chennai decided to give those who live in the most remote places a doctor too. Well, an artificial one. A smart software that is able to understand answers to basic diagnostic questions as well as ‘read’ images of the tongue.

Think of a handwriting recognition software. The program looks at the picture of a handwritten text and is able to identify the written alphabets. For the tongue test system, it does the exact same. It checks images of the patient’s tongue runs it trough several libraries of similar images and as an output provides a diagnosis. It looks at the colour, the texture and the engorgement and links them to common symptoms and condition in its database.

Say ‘aahhh’ and I’ll tell you if you’re …

You’ve probably heard of some basic hints our tongue gives about the body. A white tongue could mean we’re dehydrated, or darker patches might indicate some fungal infection. But the tongue has a lot more to say about us.

The current test can recognize up to 14 conditions ranging from asthma and allergies through syphilis to strep throat or bronchitis.

Though it’s not a real live doctor, it’s a great way to provide a diagnosis to those who are hard of finding one nearby.

E-doctor in the e-clinic

This isn’t the fist initiative to solve the crisis of access to doctors in rural India. In 2011, a US-based start-up started setting up e-health points in remote villages where patients could consult with a doctor on tele-presence. They charged a dollar for every consultation, making it affordable for even the poorest in the area.

For those of us lucky to have a doctor a few blocks down, these problems seem far away. But for those who don’t, it goes beyond convenience: it could be a lifesaver.

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