Mobile Mini Clinic: Stevens Professor to Develop a Smartphone App that Reports a Patient’s Vitals

1/8/2014

A pragmatic healthcare app that could help save lives that is being developed by Stevens Professor Yingying Chen is the latest example of how Stevens is helping New Jersey lead the way in new mobile 'app' development.

Dr. Chen, an associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of Stevens' Data Analysis and Information Security (DAISY) lab, recently secured a grant from the National Science Foundation that could transform the way we monitor health — particularly for the elderly, children, those on the autism spectrum and others who may be less likely to report new health issues to family and doctors.

Chen came to the task with plenty of mobile-technology experience: she recently developed a new technology that senses which mobile device belongs to the driver of an automobile, for instance. The technology could potentially be incorporated into safety features to block some of a driver's distracting mobile phone capabilities while preserving the freedom for passengers to continue fully using their devices.

To tackle the healthcare problem, Chen began by polling doctors and colleagues in medical technology, who explained that current healthcare apps don't work especially well, for one simple reason: many users — you, me, our grandparents and children — must hand-enter all their own data.

"Many of us don't have time, or simply forget, to type in records of our meals, exercise, medications and so on," explains Chen. "Others are intimidated by smart phones. I knew something simpler and more automated needed to be created."

Working with Stevens graduate students, she developed a new method of utilizing smartphones' multiple sensors — which include motion sensors and gyroscopes, in addition the phones' built-in cameras and microphones — in concert with easy-to-wear wristbands that passively monitor heart rate, activity and body temperature.

The system her team is developing, SENSCOPS (smartphone-enabled social and physical compass system), reports the patient's vitals wirelessly to central servers at regular intervals via a simple mobile phone app.

The implications are enormous: software on the server side could be built by the healthcare industry to analyze this data and send regular updates to medical professionals, collecting and confirming routine medical information (vital signs, emotional and physiological response to medications, activity patterns) while also flagging potential emergencies in the making.

A report from the app of a lack of patient motion for an unusually long period of time, for example, might signal SENSCOPS to automatically text-message a nurse, who could call or visit the patient immediately to learn more.

If the system proves viable in the field, the SENSCOPS could be ready for collaboration with medical or insurance industry in as little as a year or two, she adds.

"Dr. Chen’s research in mobile health could improve quality of life for millions," commented Schaefer School of Engineering Dean Michael Bruno, noting that the technology might also help control healthcare costs by proactively improving health and preventing life-threatening, expensive emergencies.