A few days ago, while researching the latest discoveries in the field of oxygen monitoring, I came across an invention that really amazed me: a smart phone application which can measure the blood oxygen saturation, among other things!
Lately, researchers have decided to take the smartphone technology to the next level: why not use these gadgets for monitoring vital signs? As you probably know, vital signs are a set of various physiological measurements, usually conducted by health care professionals for assessing the functionality of our body. They include heart rate and respiratory rate, body temperature, blood pressure and the SpO2 (or the oxygen levels in your blood).
So modern smartphones will be able to capture all these vital signs (and maybe others as well). How is this possible, technically? I am not an engineer and I won’t be able to dive into complex technical details, but I will certainly give you the basics.
As you already know, an oxygen monitor is a medical device that measures the oxygenation in our blood by using two different wavelengths: red and infrared. The instrument sends light beams through a translucent body part (fingertip or earlobe) and then the receiver collects the data, calculating the difference between the absorption rate of each wavelength: saturated hemoglobin (the oxygenated blood) absorbs the infrared light, while the non-saturated hemoglobin absorbs the red light.
For operating the new smart phone app, you will need a special ‘plug-in’ that needs to be connected to your phone (or the doctor’s phone). Being similar to the classical oxygen monitor, this little device can be clipped to your finger and plugged into the smartphone.
There is also another way of doing this – by using the video camera of your iPhone. The necessary app for this was developed by a researcher from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. In order to get the readings, all you have to do is press your fingertip on the lens of the camera. It works like a standard oximeter – by capturing and calculating the changes in the light wavelengths which are reflected by the blood in the capillaries. Then, these measurements will be translated into actual vital signs, just like in professional models of oxygen monitors. The screen will display instantly your pulse rate, respiration rate and blood oxygen levels.
As you see, in comparison with a simple oxygen monitor, the functions of the smart phone app are more complex, imitating the possibilities of a vital signs monitor: it will display live information and graphs about the physiological parameters of the patient, being extremely helpful not only for preventing hypoxia, but also for offering a complex assessment of the real-time state of our health, no matter where we are: in a hospital, at work, on vacation, in an airplane, in the gym or on the top of a mountain.
The PhoneOximeter can also prove useful in extreme situations and in rural areas – where professional help is not available.
This technology will be featured by the next generation of iPhones and iPads. I also read that FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) is currently considering approving or not these applications.
So, let’s see! The oxygen monitor is definitely a life-saving device, especially in the present conditions of continual oxygen depletion and worsening of the environmental balance. Having an iPhone with an oxygen monitoring app could be really useful!