Smartphones and tablets could provide universal access to medical monitoring

Do you have a smartphone in your pocket or purse? If so, you may be carrying the future of mobile medical monitoring technology, according to a special article in the October issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia, official journal of the International Anesthesia Research Society (IARS).

Smartphones and tablet computers have an emerging role as medical monitoring devices—and may help to extend the use of pulse oximetry for monitoring levels to developing countries around the world, according to the article by Dr J. Mark Ansermino of University of British Columbia, Vancouver. He writes, ""The widespread adoption of mobile devices, even in low-resource settings, promises to make vital signs monitoring available anywhere and at low cost."

Smartphones May Extend Availability of Pulse Oximetry

Today's mobile devices "have the computing capability, display, and battery power to become powerful medical devices that measure vital signs and provide intelligent interpretation or immediate transmission of information," according to Dr Ansermino. He notes that of the nearly six billion mobile phone users worldwide, two-thirds live in developing countries and remote areas.

In particular, mobile devices could increase access to pulse oximetry: the familiar "finger clip" device used to monitor blood oxygen levels (arterial oxygen saturation) during anesthesia and surgery, as well as other medical procedures. In developed countries, pulse oximetry has become so widely used that it has been called the "fifth vital sign"—added to body temperature, pulse rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate.

But pulse oximetry is still not routinely available in many areas, because of the costs of purchasing, using, and maintaining the monitoring equipment. In those places, cell phones or tablet computers as monitors could provide an effective and economical approach to increasing the availability of blood oxygen measurement.

"The inherent computing power of these devices and their everyday availability offer the opportunity to create a stand-alone device that can be used in the home by patients, yet which can also communicate with clinicians in real time," Dr Ansermino writes. He notes that previously owned smartphones and tablets could be "repurposed" for use as monitoring devices in developing countries.

Some Mobile Monitoring Apps Available Now

Some technologies for mobile pulse oximetry are already in use; commercial modules that can communicate with mobile devices are now in clinical trials. An app that converts the iPhone into a device capable of monitoring pulse oximetry and other vital signs is also available, though not approved for medical use. While the technology still needs to be refined, these types of applications "deliver the promise of pulse oximetry combined with supportive diagnostic and treatment applications into every medical setting and every home," writes Dr Ansermino.

For example, mobile monitoring could be an important tool in reducing deaths from pneumonia in children—still a common event in many resource-poor countries. If mobile pulse oximeters were more widely available, declining blood oxygen levels could be detected more promptly, thus allowing faster intervention. Mobile pulse oximetry could also improve the ability to identify women at risk of developing pre-eclampsia—a life-threatening complication of pregnancy and delivery.

In addition, modern smartphones and tablets also have the computing power to perform sophisticated analyses of the photophlethysmographic (PPG) data produced by pulse oximeters, potentially providing additional useful information. They could also be used to improve contact with health care providers, as an information resource to guide care, and as an educational tool for patients and health care providers.

"The widespread availability of pulse oximetry on will realize the potential of oximetry as both a monitoring and diagnostic tool in a wide range of clinical settings," Dr Ansermino concludes. With continued development of mobile , he foresees a day when "Oxygen saturation will truly become recognized as one of the vital signs."

More information: journals.lww.com/anesthesia-analgesia/Fulltext/2013/10000/Universal_Access_to_Essential_Vital_Signs.17.aspx

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Research determines feasibility of newborn screening

Jun 04, 2013

Research by UA medical student Lucy Han finds that implementing recommended pulse oximetry screening guidelines is feasible at Tucson's elevation. A recent simple pulse oximetry test revealed a potentially ...

Pulse oximetry training video published in NEJM

Apr 20, 2011

A pulse oximetry training video produced by Rafael Ortega, MD, the vice-chair of academic affairs for the department of anesthesiology at Boston Medical Center (BMC) and professor of anesthesiology at Boston University School ...

Recommended for you

What are the chances that your dad isn't your dad?

Apr 16, 2014

How confident are you that the man you call dad is really your biological father? If you believe some of the most commonly-quoted figures, you could be forgiven for not being very confident at all. But how ...

New technology that is revealing the science of chewing

Apr 15, 2014

CSIRO's 3D mastication modelling, demonstrated for the first time in Melbourne today, is starting to provide researchers with new understanding of how to reduce salt, sugar and fat in food products, as well ...

After skin cancer, removable model replaces real ear

Apr 11, 2014

(HealthDay)—During his 10-year struggle with basal cell carcinoma, Henry Fiorentini emerged minus his right ear, and minus the hearing that goes with it. The good news: Today, the 56-year-old IT programmer ...

Italy scraps ban on donor-assisted reproduction

Apr 09, 2014

Italy's Constitutional Court on Wednesday struck down a Catholic Church-backed ban against assisted reproduction with sperm or egg donors that has forced thousands of sterile couples to seek help abroad.

User comments