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Smartphone camera, flash can measure up to 70% oxygen in the blood at home

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A team of US researchers has found that smartphones are able to detect oxygen saturation levels in the blood of up to 70 percent — the lowest value a pulse oximeter should be able to measure.



The proof-of-principle research by University of Washington (UW) and University of California San Diego researchers involved participants placing their finger over a smartphone’s camera and flash, which uses a deep learning algorithm to decipher blood oxygen levels.

When the team delivered a controlled mixture of nitrogen and oxygen to six subjects to artificially lower their blood oxygen levels, the smartphone correctly predicted whether the subject had low blood oxygen levels 80 percent of the time.

“Other smartphone apps that do this have been developed by asking people to hold their breath. But people get very uncomfortable and have to breathe after a minute or so, which is before their blood oxygen levels drop far enough to reach the full range. represent clinically relevant data,” said co-lead author Jason Hoffman from the University of Washington.

“With our test, we are able to collect 15 minutes of data from each subject. Our data shows that smartphones can work well within the critical threshold range,” Hoffman said in the study published in NPJ Digital Medicine.

Another advantage of measuring blood oxygen levels on a smartphone is that almost everyone has one.

“In this way, you could take multiple measurements with your own device, at no or low cost,” added co-author Dr. Matthew Thompsonprofessor of general practice in the YOUR School of Medicine.

This would be very useful for telemedicine appointments to quickly determine if patients should go to the emergency department or if they can rest at home and make an appointment with their primary care provider later.

To collect data to train and test the algorithm, the researchers had each participant wear a standard pulse oximeter on one finger and then place another finger on the same hand over a smartphone’s camera and flash.

The researchers used data from the participants to train a deep learning algorithm to bring out the oxygen levels in the blood. The rest of the data was used to validate the method and then test it to see how well it performed in new subjects.

“The camera records how much that blood absorbs the light from the flash in each of the three color channels it measures: red, green and blue,” said senior author Edward Wangassistant professor at UC San Diego.

The team hopes to continue this research by testing the algorithm on more people.

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