New radio wave technology could one day replace stethoscopes

por Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | December 19, 2017
Emergency Medicine Health IT Medical Devices Patient Monitors
Measures vital signs via microchip tags
There may no longer be a need for a stethoscope, due to a new method that uses radio waves to measure vital signs.

Engineers at Cornell University used a cheap and covert system of radio-frequency signals and microchip tags to develop a device that can determine blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate.

The system works similarly to radar technology. The tags, which are the size of a cracker, emit radio waves that bounce off the body and internal organs and are then detected by an electronic reader that gathers the data.
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Since each tag has its own identification code that transmits along with its signal, up to 200 people can be monitored simultaneously with a single central reader. In an emergency department setting, for instance, all of the patients can wear a tag and their vital signs can be monitored at the same time.

Early experiments have shown that the system’s signal is as accurate as an electrocardiogram or a blood-pressure cuff, but the researchers plan to conduct more extensive testing. They are also working with Cornell’s department of fiber science and apparel design to embroider the tags directly onto clothing using fibers coated with nanoparticles.

Xiaonan Hui, one of the researchers, believes that clothing will one day be able to monitor a patient’s health in real time with little or no effort required.

"For every garment in our daily use, there could be a tag on them, and your cellphone will read your vital signs and will tell you some kind of information about your condition that day," he said in a statement.

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