Vital Signs Collected by a Camera

Last year at the Connected Health Symposium I saw a glimpse into the future of continuous medical monitoring. A lady got on stage and showed the results of research into how with a simple cell phone camera, you could collect various vital signs. A recent article from MITnews talks more about this type of continuous medical monitoring. Here’s a portion of that article:

So far, graduate student Ming-Zher Poh has demonstrated that the system can indeed extract accurate pulse measurements from ordinary low-resolution webcam imagery. Now he’s working on extending the capabilities so it can measure respiration and blood-oxygen levels. He hopes eventually to be able to monitor blood pressure as well. Initial results of his work, carried out with the help of Media Lab student

In the article, they talk about this technology being used to monitor people in situations where attaching sensors to the body would be difficult or uncomfortable like burn victims and newborns. While this would be a good use of the technology, I’m much more interested in this technology for the average person.

The problem with so many of the medical devices use for monitoring is that they are so obtrusive. The Fitbit like technologies that you wear on your belt aren’t terrible, but they are one more thing you have to put on and not knock off in the arch of your day. Other monitoring goes as far as requiring a pin prick every time it takes a reading. I’m not sure we’ll ever get away from the need for blood for certain monitoring, but the above technology gives me hope that we might.

Katie on Smart Phone HC recently posted about a non-invasive Cholesterol test using a digital camera. This is amazing technology, and I believe we’re just at the beginning of what will be possible.

One challenge doctors will face as these technologies develop is what to do with all the data. Imagine the web cam that’s sitting on top of my computer right now was continuously monitoring me and my vital signs. It could collect a lot of data. Will the EHR software be able to receive all that data? Will EHR or other software process all that data? IT will have to be involved in the processing of the data. I’m just not sure yet which software will do the work. My best guess is that EHR will provide the platform for other companies to create innovative solutions with the data.

Are we ready for all of this health data? The answer is no, but it’s coming just the same.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.

1 Comment

  • These advances are exciting. However, I’m afraid that much of the data will come with self defined protocols. As it is, each medical device tends to spawn its own protocol as if it were the one and only business of other systems to adapt to it.

    I would hope that inventors of these tools would be expected to say how they fit in with the rest of the world, rather than the world fitting to them.

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