Mirror, mirror, read my vitals

A student in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program is working on a system that could measure vital signs - pulse, respiration, and blood pressure - via a bathroom mirror, allowing around-the-clock monitoring in real time for those who need it. 

So far, graduate student Ming-Zher Poh's system measures a person's vitals through imaging alone using a low-cost, low-resolution digital camera or webcam. The technology, which he hopes will soon measure respiration rates and blood-oxygen as well as blood pressure, allows easy-to-do, noninvasive medical monitoring at home. The system is also being built into a bathroom mirror using video monitoring that could take a vital snapshot of your health while you brush your teeth, and then automatically transfer the information to your doctor via the internet.

Reported in an MIT news release October 4, the imaging software identifies a subject's face in the image and uses variations in brightness resulting from the flow of blood through blood vessels in the face to measure pulse rate. According to MIT, Poh has used open-source face-tracking software, and his method doesn't involve any sensors.

By using the webcam vital readings, Poh suggests that "such noninvasive monitoring could prove useful for situations where attaching sensors to the body would be difficult or uncomfortable, such as for monitoring burn victims or newborns."

Both the webcam or the device dubbed "medical mirror" could be used for telemedicine by allowing patients to consult with doctors or nurses via the internet while providing vital sign readings remotely. Plus over time, as patients use the system daily or multiple times a day, it builds a profile rich in data about their health.

Another example in the burgeoning trend of telemedical devices is the H'andy sana 210, tagged as a "doctor in your pocket," a device that allows heart patients to remotely monitor their heart by recording a real-time ECG (electrocardiogram) and send it to a health professional - but it also functions as a regular smartphone.

To watch a video of Ming-Zher Poh discussing the medical mirror technology: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyWnvAWEbWE&feature

To learn more about the project: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2010/pulse-camera-1004.html