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App turns smartphone into a medical monitor

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October 18, 2011

Prof. Ki Chon and doctoral student Chris Scully, who is working on Chon's app (Photo: WPI)...

Prof. Ki Chon and doctoral student Chris Scully, who is working on Chon's app (Photo: WPI)

Users of the Pulse Phone app may be justifiably impressed at the way in which it lets them measure their heart rate, simply by placing their finger over their iPhone's camera lens. Well, a biomedical engineer at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts has taken that concept several steps farther. Inspired by Pulse Phone, Prof. Ki Chon developed an Android app that measures not only heart rate, but also heart rhythm, respiration rate and blood oxygen saturation - all through a finger against the lens. Measurements made by the app are said to be as accurate as those obtained using standard medical monitors.

The app was developed using a Motorola Droid smartphone, although Chon believes it could be easily adapted to other models.

To measure their vital signs, users simply place their finger lightly against the phone's camera lens. When processed by custom algorithms, subtle color changes in the light reflecting off the finger reveal how fast and rhythmically the user's heart is beating, along with how fast they're breathing, and how much oxygen is getting into their bloodstream.

In a test of the system, volunteers who were hooked up to traditional measurement devices performed breathing exercises, while simultaneously holding one finger on a phone running the app. The numbers obtained using both approaches reportedly matched.

Chon is now looking at adapting the app to recognize atrial fibrillation, the most common form of cardiac arrhythmia. He also plans on creating a version of the app for tablets, that could be used in home or clinical settings. "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," he said. "We believe there are many applications for this technology, to help patients monitor themselves, and to help clinicians care for their patients."

A paper on the WPI app was recently published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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7 Comments

A...maz...ing!! I am impressed.

Marke
19th October, 2011 @ 03:21 am PDT

Android equivalent is available in the market for free.

https://market.android.com/details?id=si.modula.android.instantheartrate&hl=en

flink
19th October, 2011 @ 07:13 am PDT

flink: I think you need to read the whole article... that said, the app you point to is good.

one can only hope that any external monitors are released on a bluetooth interface instead of proprietary iDevice ports.

Charles Bosse
19th October, 2011 @ 02:49 pm PDT

It will either empower hypochondriacs to waste more doctor's time, or save lives. Possibly both.

Slowburn
20th October, 2011 @ 09:41 pm PDT

App is simple to use, and is quite accurate. A lot of people may bitch, but for those of us who are tired of counting and trying to find a resting pulse when we have neuropathy, this little App is great.

Now, if only they can get it to measure my BP as well...

Edwin Wityshyn
27th October, 2011 @ 11:13 am PDT

I am very happy to read your articles it’s very useful for me, 

and I am completely satisfied with your website. 

All comments and articles are very useful and very good.

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Facebook User
8th November, 2013 @ 10:32 pm PST

Can you image that we can use our smartphone to measure our heart rate, bold pressure,temperature, respiratory rate, and predict if we potential have AF.

Aiyuchi Aliman
26th January, 2014 @ 04:19 pm PST
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