Inspired by an iPhone application that also monitors heartbeats, a researcher is now tweaking the smart phone to act as a cutting-edge diagnostic tool.
Developed by Ki Chon, professor and head of biomedical engineering and his team at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), US, the smart phone application measures heartbeats and respiration rate, among others, using the phone’s built-in video camera.
“Imagine a technician in a nursing home who is able to go into a patient’s room, place the patient’s finger on the camera of a tablet, and in that one step capture all their vital signs,” (as accurately as standard monitors), Chon said.
“This gives a patient the ability to carry an accurate physiological monitor anywhere, without additional hardware beyond what’s already included in many consumer mobile phones,” the authors write, reports the journal IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering.
The application, developed by Chon and counterparts Yitzhak Mendelson, Domhnull Granquist-Fraser and Christopher Scully, analyzes video clips recorded while the patient’s fingertip is pressed against the lens of the phone’s camera, according to a WPI statement.
As the camera’s light penetrates the skin, it reflects off pulsing blood in the finger; the application is able to correlate subtle shifts in the colour of the reflected light with changes in the patient’s vital signs.
To test for accuracy, volunteers at WPI donned the standard monitoring devices now in clinical use for measuring respiration, pulse rate, heart rhythm and blood oxygen content. Simultaneously, the volunteers pressed a finger onto the camera of a Motorola Droid phone.
Subsequent analysis of the data showed that Chon’s new smart phone monitor was as accurate as the traditional devices. While this study was done on a Droid, Chon said the technology is easily adaptable to most smart phones with an embedded video camera.
Furthermore, since the new technology can measure heart rhythm, Chon believes the smart-phone application could be used to detect atrial fibrillation (AF), which is the most common form of cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats).
Chon and colleagues are also at work developing a version of the mobile monitoring technology for use on video-equipped tablets like the iPad. A patent application for the technology has been filed.