Things Your iPad® Can Tell Just By Looking at You
Lately, some on the cutting-edge of mobile health care technology have mused about the day that the fictional “medical tricorder” handheld scanner from Star Trek would become a reality. Nobody yet has invented a device that can collect biological data or diagnose an illness with the swipe of a wand, but a new iPad® and iPhone® app may be on the right track.
The app, a Royal Philips Electronics product called Vital Signs Camera, can measure heart and respiratory rates using just the camera on Apple’s flagship tablet and smartphone products. The app works in two ways: the camera detects subtle changes in facial color to determine heart rate, and follows chest movements to measure breathing.
It’s not quite the tricorder, but one physician who spoke to CardioSource WorldNews (CSWN) who has tried Vital Signs Camera is impressed. “This is the first step—a major step—in that direc¬tion,” says Peter Paganussi, MD, an emergency physician at Reston Hospital in Virginia.
Three years in the making, Philips’ Vital Signs Camera app was launched last November and an update was released in February. The updated version works on the iPhone 4S, as well as the iPad 2—currently the only Apple mobile devices with dual-core processors and front-facing cameras—and adds a history function that lets users compare readings over time. The 99-cent app also includes what the Dutch company calls “Valentine mode,” the ability to measure the heart rate of two people simultaneously on a single device.
“That’s just remarkable,” says Dr. Paganussi, who told CSWN that he came upon the app at the end of a demonstration of a Philips portable monitoring system for intensive care. “That was 99 percent of what we spoke about for three hours,” he recalls. At the end, a Philips representative casually showed the camera app.
“I was much more taken by the 1 percent than by the 99%,” says Dr. Paganussi, who has done research in cardiology. “Frankly, I was blown away.”
The app, however, does not have FDA clearance for medical use. In fact, Philips provides this disclaimer: “The Vital Signs Camera app is not intended for diagnosis or for clinical measurements, monitoring, or decision-making. Measurements and statistics are provided for entertainment purposes only.”
Still, Dr. Paganussi sees some good potential outside the hospital. “The thing that I, as an emergency physician, immediately thought of was first responders,” he says. The app could be useful for triage-tagging in the field during a mass-casualty event, for example.
Similarly, physician volunteers at local fairs or high-school football games could carry an iPad with the Vital Signs Camera app. “If you were at a place like that, it would be very handy,” Dr. Paganussi suggests. “I could just keep thinking of ways to use it.”
After two weeks of trying out the app, Dr. Paganussi hadn’t used Vital Signs Camera in his own practice yet, but he reports that Philips talked about how the software could potentially help with monitoring patients in the ER waiting room via a ceiling-mounted camera, or automate the registration process through facial recognition.
“You could always print out a bracelet with a photo on it,” he surmises. “You could triage and register [patients] in 10 seconds.” There still would be some data entry on the back end, but ER personnel could perform triage first and complete the registration later, almost without the patient even knowing it, according to Dr. Paganussi.
“You could do it for all aspects of the hospital, if you think about it,” he continued, including taking vitals at the point of registration whenever a patient gets transferred.
Jay Parkinson, MD, MPH, a primary care physician in Brooklyn, New York, who runs Sherpaa, a practice that provides patients with 24/7 phone and e-mail access to doctors, likewise told CSWN that he has “played around” with Vital Signs Camera, but has not tried it on a patient, either. “It’s a little wonky right now,” Dr. Parkinson says. “I would show it to friends and say it was cool.”
Philips is marketing Vital Signs Camera to the public more than to doctors and nurses, and Dr. Parkinson has a hunch that the majority of people downloading the app are not medical professionals.
“The challenge here is that it’s competing against other devices that work very well,” such as the stethoscope, he says. “This is early technology. It’s basically a proof of concept.”
However, Dr. Parkinson sees the app as perhaps the next horizon in the evolution of diagnostic technologies. “And it’s super cool,” he adds.
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