MouthLab Enables Patients to Self-Monitor Vital Health Signs
Advances in medical technology are revolutionizing the way in which health care services are administered and received. Thanks to rapid technology growth, health care delivery is no longer confined to a doctor’s office or hospital. Innovations in mobile health technologies, often called “mHealth,” have increased access to healthcare by changing where, when and how it is provided. This has improved the quality of life for many as it enables and empowers individuals to take control of their health and to be their own health care advocates. Engineers and physicians from Johns Hopkins University are participating in this growing trend through their groundbreaking development of a hand-held, battery-operated device, called the MouthLab. This device measures vital signs taken from a patient’s lips and fingertips within seconds and transfers the results to a lap top or smart device.
The MouthLab prototype, constructed with parts made from a 3D printer, was tested on 52 volunteers. The results revealed that MouthLab can accurately measure heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, breathing rate and blood oxygen. Dr. Gene Fridman, MouthLab’s lead engineer, states “We see it as a ‘check-engine’ light for humans. It can be used by people without special training, at home or in the field.”
The following essential parts comprise the MouthLab: a small, malleable mouthpiece, similar to those used by scuba divers; a hand-held unit that connects to the mouthpiece; and a thumb pad on the hand-held device. The mouthpiece is fitted with a temperature and blood volume sensor as well as sensors that measure breathing from the nose and mouth. The thumb pad has a miniaturized pulse oximeter for measuring blood oxygen level. MouthLab also contains three electrodes to conduct electrocardiograms. They are located on the thumb pad and the upper and lower lips of the mouthpiece. Testing of MouthLab’s electrocardiogram readings indicated that they are on a par with that found in most ambulances and health clinics.
Once the vital health signs are measured, MouthLab transmits the data via WiFi to a laptop or smart device, where real-time results are displayed in graphs. Future versions of this unit will display its own data without the need for a lap top. Ultimately, the goal is to make it possible for patients to send the results to their doctors from their cell phones. This would make it easy for the doctor to add the information to the patient’s electronic health record and monitor their health remotely. Fridman also plans to make the final version “smaller, more ergonomic, more user-friendly and faster.” Also, its initial features will be further expanded to detect serious health conditions by testing blood, saliva and breath. Fridman proclaims, “We envision the detection of a wide range of disorders from blood glucose levels for diabetes, to kidney failure, to oral, lung and breast cancers.”