April 14, 2024

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Novel App Could Help Earlier Detection of Growth Disorders

A smartphone application that allows parents and carers to measure and monitor their child’s height accurately could be used to help in the earlier detection of growth disorders, according to the results of a pilot study.

The GrowthMonitor smartphone app was developed by UK researchers to help tackle delays in the diagnosis of growth disorders, which they say are common in the UK. Unlike in other European countries, child growth monitoring has not been a priority and potentially treatable problems are often diagnosed late.

The app uses a simple traffic light system to inform parents that the child’s growth is normal (green); that the child should continue to be monitored (amber) or that they should seek medical advice (red).

Compared with gold standard in-clinic height measurements in 79 children, the researchers found the app was highly accurate, and further testing is now underway to examine its performance in the home.

The technology “could transform our approach to childhood growth monitoring, by empowering carers to identify growth problems early, enabling much earlier diagnosis and treatment of growth disorders”, said Dr Thilipan Thaventhiran, research nurse in paediatric endocrinology, Queen Mary University London, London, UK, in a press release.

“It could also provide reassurance to parents whose children are growing normally, thereby reducing unnecessary anxiety and referrals to paediatric services.”

The research was presented at the Society for Endocrinology’s annual conference, SfE BES 2021, on November 8.

Helen Storr, study leader, professor and honorary consultant in paediatric endocrinology, Queen Mary University London, London, UK, told Medscape News UK that the app is “completely novel”.

“There are currently no apps available that can accurately assess and monitor childhood growth.

“Firstly, it is developed by NHS professionals who are experts in childhood growth, which is not the case for many health apps,” she said. “It uses novel technology which is able to detect and flag up problems.

“It has been developed in a university research environment and rigorous scientific testing is underway.

“We want to raise awareness of growth disorders, as these are often undiagnosed or diagnosed late, but we also want to avoid unnecessary anxiety in parents and families,” Prof Storr said.

The team is therefore working with the Child Growth Foundation because it is “very important to us that we got the balance right”.

“We hope the traffic light system and wording used in the app reflect that aim,” she said. “Although people can use the app to take as many measurements as they want, the app will not send out multiple alerts, to avoid creating too much worry.

“Once a red or amber alert is triggered, it will not be able to send another for 6 months, when the next ‘formal’ measurement is due.”

The researchers note that childhood growth is an “indicator of wellbeing”, and monitoring growth “identifies treatable conditions, such as growth hormone deficiency, in apparently healthy children, and prevents inappropriate referrals”.

The smartphone application allows families to monitor a child’s growth trajectory at home by combining serial height and weight measurements with existing growth-screening algorithms on a cloud-based platform.



Source: Queen Mary University London

The app calculates height data using augmented reality, and the children were measured three times by the app in parallel to gold-standard stadiometer height measurements taken as part of routine care.

The algorithm calculated each child’s height against UK population-based height references, as well as the distance from target height and changes over time. This was converted into the traffic light system to inform parents that growth is normal, or that they should continue monitoring or seek medical advice.

Seventy nine children took part in the pilot study, of whom 42 were male. The average age was 10.37 years, with a range of 1.9–18.0 years.

The average coefficient of variance for the in-app measurements was 1.5%, which the researchers say indicates “excellent precision”.

Among the 12 participants who triggered a red alert recommending referral, only two were incorrect. Comparison with the stadiometer measurements indicated they should have triggered amber alerts.

In addition, one green, or normal, measurement should have been amber, based on the stadiometer measurements.

“Our preliminary data suggests the GrowthMonitor app produces accurate, reliable height measurements,” the team concludes.

 

The study was funded by the Grant for Growth Innovation (GGI) and Barts Charity.

No relevant financial relationships declared.

Society for Endocrinology BES 2021: Abstract LB15. Presented 8 November.

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