CellScope Launches iPhone Device for Diagnosing Ear Infections, Expands Telemedicine Market

WHAT: A device called an otoscope that attaches to an iPhone so that doctors (and eventually parents) can take photos inside a child’s ear. Doctors use the image to determine whether there is an ear infection or show it to colleagues for a second opinion. CellScope images can be added to the child’s electronic medical record to compare them to future images of ear infections.

LAUNCHERS:  Erik Douglas has a doctorate in bioengineering from UC-Berkeley and previously founded a company that did due diligence for tech investors (company failed). Wilbur Lam is a pediatrician at Emory University who met Erik in their PhD program.

WHY: Ear infections are the top reason kids go to doctors (and emergency rooms), accounting for about 30M visits a year. The iPhone’s camera takes photos good enough for doctors to make an ear-infection diagnosis based on them. Doctors have become more open to tech solutions (including electronic medical records) that make them more efficient and reduce costs. Plus you don’t need approval from the Food and Drug Administration to make otoscopes.

BACKSTORY: In 2009, CellScope launched a cellphone microscope that allows health care workers in remote places to test saliva for tuberculosis and send results to doctors anywhere. That work inspired the team to make a smartphone-based diagnostic device for the U.S. market. The prototype took 18 months to develop.

WHEN/WHERE: June 1 (prototype) / Berkeley. Testing with pediatricians in the Bay Area and Atlanta.

BUSINESS MODEL: Not finalized, but Erik says, “It will likely be a per-use fee that a doctor or patient would pay depending on how the [doctor’s] practice is structured.” The device itself will retail in the “tens of dollars” according to talks with potential manufacturers.

GOAL: To have a product on the market by spring 2012.

MARKET: Initially CellScope is focused on tech-savvy pediatricians and urban professionals with kids.

COMPETITION: Otoscopes that can be hooked up to a camera connected to a laptop. For the parents-with-sick-kids market: E.R. visits.

POSSIBLE PARTNERS: Telemedicine companies like American Well and Teladoc, which have relationships with doctors and insurance companies nationwide.

REACTION FROM INSURANCE COMPANIES: Erik says they are interested. “I think it’s something they would like to try out, especially with ear infections... A lot of people go to the E.R., which is expensive for them.”

REACTION FROM PEDIATRICIANS: Wilbur says the doctors he explains it to get the value: “Aside from all the convenience and health-care savings of the diagnosis, to have this electronic image and easily transfer it to electronic medical records is very exciting for them.”

WHO BACKED IT: Academic grants, Rock Health accelerator.

TOTAL RAISED: $70K ($50K in grants, $20K from Rock Health), with some funds from friends and family. Currently raising $750K.

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: Three [Wilbur and Daniel Fletcher, a bioengineering and biophysics prof at UC-Berkeley, are involved but not full-time.]

The otoscope fits over the top of the iPhone 4. The piece that goes into the ear aligns with the phone’s camera.


The doctor or parent inserts the otoscope in the child’s ear and takes a photo. In the at-home model, parents will be required to answer questions about the child’s symptoms when they upload the image or email it to the doctor (either would be possible). Parents can also say how urgently they need a response. Total process should take about five minutes.

The doctor reviews the image and determines whether the child has an ear infection. In a web-based model, the doctor could indicate his action -- “Let’s see what it looks like tomorrow” or “I’ll prescribe antibiotics” -- on the image page. He could also call or email the parent with his recommendation.


1. “Telemedicine: Opportunities for Medical and Electronic Providers” (BCC Research, Jan. 2011)

2. Electronic Medical Record/Electronic Health Record Systems of Office-based Physicians: United States, 2009 and Preliminary 2010 State Estimates (CDC, Dec. 2010)


Erik Douglas
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikdouglas
Bio: http://www.cellscope.com/team

Wilbur Lam
Email: wilbur dot lam at emory dot edu
Bio: http://www.cellscope.com/team

Email: info at cellscope dot com

Rock Health
Email: info at rockhealth dot org
Blog: http://rockhealth.com/blog/