Doctors in Vietnam check out a prototype of the flexible nasopharyngoscope initially designed by Duke engineering students. (Credit: Duke University)

A team of researchers has developed a low-cost nasopharyngoscope for use in provincial and district hospitals in the Vietnam, where traditional scopes are cost prohibitive. These doctors are often the first to see patients complaining of nasal or throat problems and had no reliable way to check for signs of cancer.

They quickly abandoned the tricked-out optics and motion controls that most commercial scopes use, which might be necessary in a complex case in a specialist’s office but were overkill for a basic exam. They also paid attention to the expense of cleaning and maintenance, which is often a bigger barrier to affordability than the up-front price tag. To simplify daily upkeep, their redesigned scope can be cleaned with disinfectants commonly available in low- and middle-income countries.

The Duke otolaryngology clinic led by Walter Lee, MD, is joining with Vivo Surgical on a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct the clinical trial. He hopes to collect data from 150,000 exams using the new instrument over the next 18 months. He notes Vietnamese colleagues who tested the scopes in focus groups have been glowing in their reviews.

If results from the trials are similarly favorable, the next step is to get the scopes into local and regional hospitals. Enabling those frontline clinicians to perform a quick visual check will help them catch problem cases earlier, says Lee. But just as importantly, it can help them rule out more worrisome issues, saving patients the stress and hassle of a referral appointment.