Cell phone camera measures vital signs in low-cost solution

Neuroscience researchers at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta have developed a way to measure a person's heart and breathing rates using any single-channel video camera, including a web or cell phone cam, Healthline News reported. The technological enabler, according to the article, is a series of complex mathematical algorithms that help the camera sort mountains of visual data into useful, real-time information. 

Traditional techniques to measure vital signs like heart and breathing rates require sensors to be attached to a patient, such as electrocardiogram (ECG), pulse oximetry, piezoelectric transducer and respiratory-effort belt transducer. The new method of detecting vital signs may enable a crucial and low-cost solution for the early-prevention of sudden infant death syndrome in newborns at home, or be effective for detecting stroke or heart attacks in elderly patients at home or in nursing homes.

"Normally, caregivers have to put their hands on a patient to assess these [heart and respiratory] rates," Joe Tsien, a neuroscientist who led the college's research team, said in an announcement. "However, our algorithms enable us to rapidly and accurately translate, for example, normally imperceptible movement of the skin in rhythm with our breathing into an accurate measure of respiration rate."

A study describing the new technique was published Oct. 8 in the journal PLOS ONE. Tsien and his team measured the vitals of 15 live study subjects, including an infant. The researchers also hooked patients up to a standard ECG and airflow sensor to check that their results were accurate. The technique yielded a false positive result only three percent of the time, and a false negative less than one percent of the time.

Tsien is hopeful that his technique and others like it can provide accurate patient information that is usually gathered in more painstaking and expensive ways. "This technology may save time and make it effortless," he told Healthline News. "For example, information on patients' heart or breathing rates can be conveniently collected as the patients check in, without having the nurses to wrap the traditional monitor around your arms, also reducing the potential cross-contamination." 

In August, Verizon announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave 510(k) clearance to its Converged Health Management, a cloud-based, remote patient-monitoring medical device, marking the first time the wireless and wireline communications company has pursued and been granted FDA approval for a healthcare solution.

The solution, which will be commercially available in late 2013, provides clinicians with access to up-to-date patient data from connected biometric devices so they can more efficiently monitor and manage patients from their home, or when they are on the go.

To learn more:
- read the article
- here's the study
- check out the announcement