Your phone’s camera may soon track SpO2 levels in your blood

Smartphones are already capable of some neat health tricks. From step count sleep tracking for pulse oximetry and breathing rate, the phone in your pocket is a powerful health monitoring device. Now, a team of scientists from University of Washington Looking forward to adding a blood oxygen level measurement to that bag of tricks.

In a paper published inDigital Medicine NJPIn this article, the team detailed what it calls “the first clinical development validation on a smartphone camera-based SpO2 sensing system.” To put it simply, the team developed an algorithm and demonstrated that smartphones can measure the level of oxygen saturation in the blood to the same baseline level approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for over-the-counter pulse oximeters.

University of Washington

For reference, the agency recommends that the pulse oximeter be able to measure SpO2 levels as low as 70%. As part of the study involving six volunteers, the team demonstrated that blood oxygen levels with a minimum of 70% can be measured with nearly 80% accuracy by simply placing a finger on a smartphone’s camera and adjacent flash.

The recent breakthrough goes beyond two primary challenges. First, this method does not require the user to hold their breath. Second, previous smartphone-based SpO2 measurement methods can only measure a ground level of 85%, but the new computational method developed by scientists can touch the same baseline level as medical-grade pulse oximeters.

Find SpO2 measurements on phones
University of Washington

The technology used here is not much different from the SpO2 sensors in smartwatches like Apple Watch Series 8 And the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 an act. When the flash illuminates the path of blood moving through the vessels, the rate of light absorption changes, and these differences are then processed by the algorithm intended to measure the level of oxygen saturation in the blood.

The future of phone-based health monitoring

Co-lead author, Jason Hoffman, notes, “Our data shows that smartphones can perform well within the critical threshold range.” One of the biggest advantages of using smartphones to measure blood oxygen saturation levels is their accessibility. Plus, the method doesn’t rely on a fancy multi-cam setup or dedicated hardware either. All you need is a camera sensor located alongside the LED flash on the back.

Use your phone's camera and flash to measure oxygen levels in your blood.
Dennis Wise/University of Washington

It’s also easier to send SpO2 data to a medical expert from a smartphone than to take the measurement on a smartwatch, pair with the phone via a companion app, sync the data, and then transfer it. Monitoring SpO2 levels is of crucial importance these days as we live in a world hit by COVID-19.

The team has opened up the entire data set so that other interested parties can expand on it. This is important again because the research included data collected from only six people, five of whom were of Caucasian descent, and only one was of African descent.

More diversity and a broader network of volunteers are needed to fine-tune the platform and make smartphone-based SpO2 measurements more accurate and equitable. Smartwatches like the Apple Watch have already been introduced double the error When it comes to non-white subjects or people with tattoos and obese body types.

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