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Pocket Doc: 17 Year Old Builds Cell Phone Heart Monitor for Developing World

Catherine Wong wanted to improve healthcare access in remote places, so she built a cellphone-enabled EKG from parts you can get at Radio Shack.

Telehealth solutions are catching on. Tools that allow people to get digital diagnoses or remote consultations with doctors are being used both to reach underserved rural populations in the states and to expand health care access in the developing world. Big brains are working on these solutions and one of them happens to be a 17 year-old tinkerer from suburban New Jersey named Catherine Wong.

From off-the-shelf electronics parts, Wong built a working prototype of a game changing medical device for the developing world: an inexpensive electrocardiogram machine to track heart activity and wirelessly send it in real time to a Java-enabled cell phone app and then on to a diagnosing physician.

Back in July NPR reporter Joe Palca launched a contest to round up the best ideas "that could change the world" from young people between the ages of 13 and 25. Wong and scores of others sent in explanatory videos.


The NPR science desk and a handful of third party scientists reviewed the ideas and they were impressed by Wong's prototype. "Just the kind of technology that 'flattens the Earth' for better medical care," Scripps Research Institute cardiologist Eric Topol told Palca.

Turning that great idea into a product ready for market will be another challenge though. Palca has connected Wong with the folks behind innovation incubator PopTech and Wong is determined to continue refining even though she still needs to finish high school.

"I'm going to keep going on this project, making it smaller, cheaper, more durable," she said. Her dream: to actually get it working for patients in developing countries. "That's who I aimed the project at, and that's who I'm working for."


Kudos to Wong for seeing a problem and designing a fix, all from parts available in your local Radio Shack.

EKG image via Shutterstock

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