UIHC doctors develop breakthrough in respiratory technology
Though some might not expect innovative health technology to be found in a video-game system, two assistant professors at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are playing with the possibilities.
Junyi Xia and Alfredo Siochi of the UI's Radiation Oncology Department are developing an easy and affordable way to track respiration remotely without invasive or encumbering equipment.
Earlier this year, the two began working with Microsoft Kinect to discover what medical capabilities the system could have.
"I thought the Kinect was cool," Xia said. "It was very small, and all the components are similar to what is used already in monitoring systems; for example, web cams and micro cams."
The Kinect is a motion-sensing game device used alongside the XBox gaming system.
The Kinect system developed by the two UIHC doctors views patients' stomachs from a tripod position in front of their feet, the most accurate angle to provide information on breath rate and depth of breath. The viewing speed is 30 frames per second, Xia said — almost real time.
This technology could be used to check a patient with respiratory problems, from concerns such as overmedication or high blood pressure.
The system is affordable, Xia said. The UIHC currently pays more than $100,000 for each monitoring system, but the doctors' Kinect set up costs $600.
Harold Oglesby, the manager of the Center of Pulmonary Health in Savannah, Ga., said affordability is a key factor as hospital budgets are getting tighter.
"Less expensive is a relative term," he said. "You have to look at how much the facility is going to spend to get the most accurate devices. The device probably wouldn't cost much."
Traditional respiratory monitoring systems consist of acoustic and capnography, Oglesby said. These systems measure more in-depth information, such as oxygen concentrations in the blood, and they are highly invasive and expensive.
"Technology [in respiratory monitoring] has progressed," Oglesby said. "At one point, acoustics and capnography were unheard of. Technology has developed to become smaller, more functional, and more efficient."
Oglesby said general use of a product such as the Kinect system could have a positive effect in the broader medical field.
"In general terms, the system has plusses," he said. "It would consistently and accurately measure the breathing rate. I could see the benefit of that."
Yet Oglesby said he was skeptical about some of the technology's limitations.
"If you're just measuring how fast the patient is breathing or the movement, it would not be enough for most patients," he said, referring to patients he regularly sees in the intensive-care unit.
But Siochi said he has no doubt the gaming system can be used for other technological advancements.
"I don't want to limit the possibilities for this," he said.
The system could in theory be used for anything from preventing sudden infant-death syndrome to triggering home-security alarms, Siochi said.
The team is focusing on the accessibility of the Kinect, because it is a product widely available to consumers. As of January, Microsoft had sold almost 20 million Kinect systems since its release in 2010, according to a Microsoft report.
Xia said they could also see Kinect being used as a medical Internet application used by patients at home.
"I think if you can engineer ideas in a way that benefits as many people as possible," Siochi said. "That would be our ultimate goal."
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