17-Year-Old Invents a Cellphone That Offers Cardiac Care to Patients

High school student built a way to bring healthcare to 2 billion people who otherwise wouldn't have access to it.
Catherine Wong invents a cellphone that offers cardiac care to patients in developing countries. (Photo: Catherine Wong)
Sep 8, 2012· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Catherine Wong might appear to be an ordinary high school student from Morristown, N.J., but in reality, she may have just revolutionized cardiac care in developing countries, according to NPR. The site reports that Wong invented a cellphone that also operates as a portable electrocardiogram machine; the device is able to measure a user’s heart activity and then in real-time, transmit that information to a doctor located anywhere in the world.

Wong not only came up with the idea, but she built a workable prototype out of basic cellphone materials anyone could purchase at Radio Shack. She submitted her invention to NPR’s "Joe’s Big Idea Contest", and this week was announced as its winner.

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An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a widely-used medical test to track heart rhythms in cardiac patients. Using Bluetooth wireless signals, Wong’s cellphone picks up the user’s heart rhythm. Then, courtesy of a Java app Wong wrote herself, the rhythms appear illustrated on the phone's screen. Those results can then be transmitted in real-time to a diagnosing doctor, even when the patient is in a remote location.

The 17-year-old, who’s currently in her junior year of high school, explained that she was inspired to make low-cost medical tools for the developing world. NPR states that there are “2 billion people in the world with no access to healthcare” and tools like Wong’s cellphone bring crucial medical attention to people who otherwise would never have come in contact with it.

A judge on NPR’s panel, Elizabeth Nadel, who is also the president of Brigham and Women’s and Faulkner Hospitals, stated,"It is a leapfrog approach that bypasses standard pieces of medical equipment that are expensive and not readily available to these populations."

Wong may have already started her school year, but she’s continuing to fine-tune her invention. With the help of mentors she's come in contact with since winning the contest, she hopes to make her device smaller, less expensive, and durable so that it can become a more immediate reality for people in developing countries. She told NPR, "That's who I aimed the project at, and that's who I'm working for."

What other inventions could the medical community devise in order to bring health care to those who need it?