Published: 03/11/2005 Volume 115 No. 5980 Page 12

A team at Loughborough University has developed a system for transmitting data such as ECG, blood pressure, oxygen saturation and body temperature on mobile phones.

It has opened up the way for patients to avoid hospital visits by allowing doctors to monitor vital signs remotely.

The prototype processor takes results from sensors attached to a person's body and sends them via Bluetooth to the person's mobile phone and over the mobile network to the lab's server. It could be particularly useful in postoperative care and for patients in remote areas.

Created by Professor Bryan Woodward and Dr Fadlee Rasid, the advance in telemedicine is the fruit of six years' work.

'Telemedicine had used landlines for many years but nobody seemed to be exploiting mobile phones, ' says Professor Woodward.

Initial funding of£160,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council produced an infrared prototype after three years.

'The problem with that is around having to have a directional link between the processor and the phone, whereas with the Bluetooth radio link directionality is not a problem, ' says Professor Woodward.

Those efforts have now culminated in successful trials of a prototype system capable of transmitting eight different channels of data. For the tests small sensors were attached to a person's wrist and they were given a mobile phone and processor. They were then instructed to continue with their normal daily routine. The tests showed that heart data and other vital signs can be transmitted from a mobile phone in real time and received error-free on a computer many miles away.

Professor Woodward is now in talks with interested parties about the next step of development: to miniaturise the processor so that the patient can carry a unit no bigger than a credit card.

'What we have done is to provide the concept. What we are not quite so sure of is exactly what most doctors would like to see and how it could be carried by patients, ' he says.

E-mail Professor Woodward on b. woodward1@lboro. ac. uk