Intermountain Health is testing new technology to screen for jaundice

Mar 6, 2024, 1:12 PM | Updated: 4:10 pm

MURRAY — Thousands of babies are born and tested for jaundice in Utah every year.

To test for jaundice, a poke is required.

One day, however, that may not be the case as Intermountain Health is testing a new way to check for jaundice.

Currently, three hospitals, including Intermountain Health in Murray, are testing a way around the needle where instead all that would be needed is a smartphone to take a picture.

“We wanna save pokes and we want to keep the blood in the baby,” said Dr. Timothy Bahr. “We don’t want to take blood.”

Bahr spends his time in the hospital providing care to babies in the NICU.

He said this new move in technology could be a game-changer for families as Intermountain Health and Picterus AS, a Norwegian health tech company, are in a partnership to study an app that can test the bilirubin (also known as jaundice) levels in a baby by using a smartphone’s camera.

“Most babies, up to 60 percent of babies, are born with jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin, or they develop it over the first couple days of their life and about 10 percent of babies end up needing treatment,” Bahr said. 

Every year, more than 33,000 babies are born in Intermountain Health hospitals and tested for jaundice each year. 

The impact of jaundice if left untreated

Three in five newborns will experience jaundice, which, in its severe case and if left untreated, can cause brain damage or hearing loss.

To test with the technology is as easy as placing a card with a colored-wheel on a baby’s chest, then pulling up the app. The app will then take around six photos of the card and baby. It then uploads that information onto a server where it is evaluated and sent back to the phone with measurements.

This is being studied as a tool that would be used to see if further jaundice care is needed.

Camille, a mom of three, has been around testing for jaundice, most recently with her 5-weeks-old son Max.

“You’re wailing that you need help, and I’m just watching someone milk blood out of your foot because it doesn’t come out super nicely, and it’s a lot for your heart to watch for sure,” Camille said.

This, if successful, she said could save a lot of heartache, pokes, and time.

“You’re always stressed, like am I missing something? Is it not improving? That would just be so nice to be able to stay home and not adding that stress of getting yourself and your baby ready to get off to the pediatrician’s office again,” Camille said.

Intermountain Heath researchers will study the app on around 300 babies in three of the Intermountain Health hospital sites, including Provo, Ogden, and Murray. 

They are also working to make sure that all skin tones and types will work with the app as they test this technology. 

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Intermountain Health is testing new technology to screen for jaundice