Students Develop an At-home Diagnostic Tool

The device could help those with limited access to health care

14 February 2014

When a close friend of IEEE Student Member Libin Varghese died as a result of a late diagnosis of heart disease, he decided to come up with a device to help people take charge of their own health. It took him and a team of classmates at Amal Jyothi College of Engineering, in Kerala, India, a year to develop the E-Diagnoser.

The device, which has a 10- by 12-centimeter LCD display and can be worn (with care) like a wristwatch, measures seven vital signs, including blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and blood oxygen level. With the help of an embedded micro-accelerometer, it also can track whether a user has fallen down, an important piece of information if the wearer is elderly. The results from the screenings instantly appear on the monitor both as numerical values and graphs. The system can also be set up to text, email, or call a doctor or family member when the readings fall out of their normal ranges. And no Internet connection is needed for the device to work.

While patient-monitoring devices used in the home for biometric readings are not new, Varghese believes they are too limiting. Many are heavy and expensive for India’s poor. Instead, Varghese and his team designed their system to be portable, even wearable, and, eventually, it is hoped, less costly than other options available today.

“Our vision is for every household in rural India to have this system, so that the health care of the country’s citizens can dramatically improve,” Varghese says. He is currently working on his master’s in electrical engineering at Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology, also in Kerala.

The prototype has garnered several awards, and Varghese has received funding to further develop the product. The group is awaiting patent approval in India and is in talks with pharmaceutical companies and humanitarian organizations to help distribute the device on a mass scale, as well as to subsidize the cost for those who cannot afford it. The price of the product if it were for sale today would be US $100, but the students are trying to get the price much lower.

PERSONALIZED CARE

Before designing the device, Varghese and the team met with doctors and patients to better understand their needs. The team includes IEEE student members Adarsh Sabu, Anoop P. Anupamam, Shibin Joseph, Nithya Merrin, Chithira Jacob, and Pillai Sareesh. The doctors they spoke with suggested that the group focus on the same vital signs that are measured at an annual checkup.

The system is made up of an LCD display, a wristband, and four jacks to connect four medical devices to the monitor. A particular sensor can be plugged in when needed or all four can be plugged in at the same time. The system uses a microcontroller to analyze the measured data and determines whether the readings are within the normal range or whether more tests are needed. The monitor then displays the results of the measurements and stores the information.

Other benefits allow patients to show their doctors their readings over time by bringing the device in with them. Or patients can expedite a visit to the emergency room or doctor’s office by sending their vital-sign information before arrival.

The system was shown to be only 80 percent accurate in its measurements, according to Varghese, compared with results conducted by a hospital lab. In the future, he says, the students hope to improve the accuracy by incorporating more accurate sensors and additional microcontrollers.

A future enhancement will also include an electrocardiography feature, which can measure the rate and regularity of heartbeats over time.

IN EVERY HOME

The students have received funding from the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Centre, a central government organization in New Delhi that promotes and supports innovation in the region. They continue to research ways to improve the device and lower the price.

The group has also received a handful of prestigious awards, including its university’s Innovation Ideas Unleashed Scholarship Award, which helps financially support the most innovative student projects, and the IEEE Global Humanitarian Engineering Award, recognizing outstanding achievements in humanitarian engineering.

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