New technology is transforming smart phones and tablets into portable vital-sign monitors capable of detecting dangerous health conditions, like irregular heart rhythms, with the same accuracy as traditional monitoring devices and far less hassle.

Scientists from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have written an application for smart phones that will enable people to monitor their respiration rate, heart rate and rhythm, and their blood oxygen saturation simultaneously.

The application works by having a person put their finger on the camera lens that comes standard with most smart phones. By taking note of how the camera’s light interacts with a person’s skin, the application can take a person’s vital sign measurements.

When the scientists compared the measurements taken by the smart phone application with measurements taken by conventional medical monitoring equipment, they found that the information recorded by the camera was just as accurate.

This promising technology could have a huge impact on the health of elderly people and how family caregivers track their loved ones’ health.

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Instead of placing a senior in a stressful situation where they are hooked up to a multitude of wires and beeping machines, which is sure to artificially elevate their blood pressure and increase their heart rate, the same result can be achieved by having them simply place their finger on a camera.

Ki Chon, head of biomedical engineering at WPI, and lead professor of the project says, “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. We believe there are many applications for this technology, to help patients monitor themselves, and to help clinicians care for their patients.”

This application is in the final development and clinical testing stages and is not yet available to the public.