The researchers intend to eventually adapt tablet devices into sophisticated medical monitors that would capture and transmit vital physiological data.
Published online, by the journal IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, the new technological breakthrough was led by Ki Chon, professor and head of biomedical engineering at WPI.
The new smartphone application has been programmed to measure not only heart rate, but also heart rhythm, respiration rate and blood oxygen saturation using the phone's built-in video camera.
The new app, according to the researchers would help indicate accurate vital signs akin to those of standard medical monitors that are currently used in medical practice.
Because the new technology can measure heart rhythm, Chon believes the smart-phone app could be used to detect atrial fibrillation (AF), which is the most common form of cardiac arrhythmia. We are building that application now, and we have started a preliminary clinical study with colleagues at UMass Medical School to use the smart phone to detect AF, Chon said.
The app would enable patients to measure and submit their own medical data, which could improve detection of diseases such as atrial fibrillation.
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 wrote.
One of the advantages of mobile phone monitoring is that it allows patients to make baseline measurements at any time, building a database that could allow for improved detection of disease states, the authors noted.
Chon and his WPI colleagues Yitzhak Mendelson, associate professor of biomedical engineering, Domhnull Granquist-Fraser, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and doctoral student Christopher Scully, developed the app that would be capable of analyzing video clips recorded while the patient's fingertip is pressed against the lens of the phone's camera.
The mechanism works such that when the camera's light penetrates the skin, it reflects off of pulsing blood in the finger; the application is then able to correlate subtle shifts in the color of the reflected light with changes in the patient's vital signs.
Chon, an expert on signal processing, had previously developed algorithms that monitor a range of vital signs using traditional clinical devices like a Holter heart monitor.
In the new study, Chon and his team created and adapted algorithms to process the data gathered by the phone's video camera.
Research leader Chon and his colleagues are also working to develop a version of the mobile monitoring technology for use on video-equipped tablets such as the iPad.
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, Chon said.
We believe there are many applications for this technology, to help patients monitor themselves, and to help clinicians care for their patients, Chon added.
It is ironical that such an application should spark interest when the inventor of the iPhone, Steve Jobs, rests in peace and this indeed is a tribute in perspective to the great man!