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
Smartphones and tablet computers have an emerging role as mobile medical monitoring devices and may help to extend the use of pulse oximetry for monitoring blood oxygen levels to developing countries around the world, according to the article by Dr. J. Mark Ansermino of
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.
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