Need To Check Your Blood Pressure? Just Take a Selfie!

A new smartphone app uses an algorithm to analyze video from a smartphone camera to detect blood pulsing just beneath the skin — producing blood pressure readings.

GE Healthcare

We all know the importance of blood pressure monitoring, but few people actually keep a cuff and pump around the house. Some people stop off at the blood pressure booth at the grocery store every now and then, but what if checking your blood pressure was as simple as taking a selfie? That’s what a group of researchers from GE are trying to achieve with their new app that uses a special algorithm to analyze video footage from your face and hands taken from a smartphone camera.

The new technology involves capturing a short 5 to 10-second video of your face and hands that will allow an algorithm to observe and analyze blood pulsing beneath the skin to estimate both heart rate and blood pressure. The genesis of the idea came from the observation that natural light in a room is able to penetrate just below the skin’s surface to provide visual data. The human eye can’t see this, but everyday video cameras can easily detect the necessary images.

The algorithm designed for the new app only requires a few seconds of close-up video footage to extract the necessary pulsation information based on faint skin-color shifts. These skin-color shifts are caused by changes in blood volume as it flows beneath the skin.

Traditional blood pressure cuffs provide the most accurate readings, but the bulky, cumbersome nature of cuff technologies can make them costly and inconvenient. A cuff-less technology like GE’s new app would not only reduce the cost but allow users to get heart rate and blood pressure readings from virtually anywhere. It can also reduce the stress of leaving the home to visit the doctor, something that can actually drive blood pressure readings up. The new app could also provide a simple solution for patients that are difficult to cuff, like babies and young children whose arms are small and make it difficult to find cuffs that fit.

The medtech world has produced other alternatives to the cuff in the past, like the wristwatch from EchoLabs that was designed to measure a variety of different variables, from hydration levels and steps, to blood pressure and heart rate. There was also an electronics firm from Japan that debuted a smartwatch technology that was specifically designed for monitoring blood pressure, known as “Project Zero.” Their device was the first of its kind that was actually designed to inflate on the user's wrist to produce blood pressure readings.

However, GE’s new smartphone app aims to be among the first to provide blood pressure measurements without any kind of wearable device. The convenience and simplicity of a smartphone app that would not only help patients check their blood pressure more frequently, but also provide them the freedom to do so without any discomfort.

The new technology is the latest from GE in its commitment to transform medicine with wireless, cloud-based technologies and devices. With the American Heart Association updating its clinical guidelines to classify 130/80 millimeters of mercury or greater as hypertension, more people will need access to blood pressure monitoring devices that are simple to use outside of the doctor’s office to help prevent future complications.

GE believes that technologies like this will allow people to continuously monitor vital signs from wherever they are, while also enabling users to log and share that data with their physician so that appropriate steps can be taken to prevent health risks. With funding support from the National Institutes of Health, GE said the technology could soon move to clinical trials.

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Assuming this actually works, there is still the fantasy of physicians sitting around with nothing to do but review the incoming data streams of all of their patients with monitoring devices. Nor is there a corresponding compensation model.
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