Philips recently launched an interesting application for the Apple iPad. Called VitalSigns, it’s a 99c app that uses the iPad’s camera to record your heart and breathing rate. Unlike when you might do so at a general practitioner’s office or in a hospital, there’s no cuff to wear or sensor of any type to deal with; instead the camera measures the colour differences in your face, as well as the movements of your chest to approximate the rate at which you’re breathing. Give it a minute or two, and it’ll return a reasonable approximation of both. Curiously, you can then update Twitter or Facebook with your vital statistics, although (while I engage with Social Networking on an incredibly regular basis), I’m befuddled why you’d want to.
I gave the app a quick spin, and it’s quite surprising what it can actually track; within a very short space of time the graph to measure breathing was going up and down in an eerie representation of the way I was breathing at the time. Very cool technology without a shadow of a doubt.
But I won’t be deleting my GP’s phone number from my phone any time soon, just because I’ve got a measuring tool of my own. For a start, the app is plastered with all kinds of legal disclaimers, as it’s not a dedicated and gently calibrated piece of medical technology; it’s a mass market tablet computer running some software. Equally, I’m not fully qualified to interpret the results it gives, except in the most broad ways. As a test, I took a measurement while sitting, then did a five minute jog on the spot and measured again. Not surprisingly, my heart rate was remarkably high for the second reading, but it didn’t mean I needed to rush to call for an ambulance.
The same is true of a lot of online medical information. There’s definitely something to be said for being well read, and if you’re so inclined, many of the world’s greatest medical texts and minds are but a simple Google search away. That doesn’t immediately turn you into a qualified doctor, just the same as reading the instructions for a low water usage shower doesn’t turn you into a plumber, or reading this article turn you into a journalist. Knowledge can be power, but knowing exactly how to apply that knowledge in the correct context is what gives that knowledge power. As such, the Vital Signs app is a nice party trick to pull out, and could conceivably be of use to those who need to take regular readings with a capacity for a margin of error, but I wouldn’t rely on it to save my life.