New App Helps Parents Identify Treatable Childhood Growth Disorders Earlier

A mobile phone app can place the accurate measurement of children’s height in the hands of parents and caregivers. Preliminary data presented at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Edinburgh suggests that the app could reliably identify treatable growth disorders much earlier, with significant improvements in child health.

Childhood growth is a strong indicator of health and well-being in children, but delays in the diagnosis of growth disorders are common in the UK. In contrast to many European health systems, monitoring child growth has not been a priority in the UK and serious, treatable conditions are often diagnosed late. Growth failure may be the first and only sign of many chronic childhood diseases or indicate a specific growth disorder such as growth hormone deficiency (1 in 4,000 children), Noonan and Turner syndrome (each 1 in 2,500 children) and SHOX deficiency (up to 20% of undiagnosed short stature).

A reliable and accurate method for parents and carers to monitor growth at home could be a cost-effective and convenient strategy to identify those children in need of medical referral, empowering parents, raising awareness and reducing pressure on primary care services. An interdisciplinary group, led by Helen Storr, PhD, of Queen Mary University London, has developed a user-friendly app called GrowthMonitor to do just this.

Thilipan Thaventhiran, PhD, a research nurse in pediatric endocrinology at Queen Mary University London, led the pilot testing of the GrowthMonitor app in 79 children, showing that height data measured by the app were highly accurate when compared to gold standard clinic stadiometer measurements. The app uses a simple traffic light system, based on predetermined threshold heights, to inform parents that growth is either normal (green), to continue monitoring (amber) or to seek medical advice (red).

“The GrowthMonitor app technology could transform our approach to childhood growth monitoring, by empowering [caregivers] to identify growth problems early, enabling much earlier diagnosis and treatment of growth disorders,” Thaventhiran says. “It could also provide reassurance to parents whose children are growing normally thereby reducing unnecessary anxiety and referrals to pediatric services.”

Following the positive pilot data obtained in a hospital setting, further testing is now underway assessing the app’s usability in the home environment. This phase is critical in evaluating the app in the hands of parents and carers, away from the hospital. 

Storr says; “In line with the government drive to digitize healthcare, this type of app-based technology provides a model for healthcare innovation which is both cost-effective, convenient, accurate and reliable. Engaging patients, parents and [caregivers] in monitoring childhood growth is empowering and raises awareness of important and potentially treatable conditions”