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Mobile App for Measuring Respiratory Rates Proves Quick and Accurate

First Posted: Jun 20, 2014 06:44 PM EDT

Researchers at the Child & Family Research Institute (CFRI) at BC Children's Hospital and the University of British Columbia developed a mobile app that can measure respiratory rates in children about six times faster than regular methods.

The app, RRate, can accurately measure one's respiratory rate in an average of 9.9 seconds compared to the traditional method of counting a patient's breath for 60 seconds while using a stop watch. All RRate requires is that the user taps the screen each time the child inhales.

The technology will allow doctors to diagnose children with pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses more effectively. With young children, such diagnoses are all about timing because a delay in the diagnoses in ailments such as pneumonia can result in death. In fact, the common lung infection is the leading cause of death of children worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. And now, with the international presence of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the technology can help catch that deadly disease as early as possible.

"Mobile phones are changing how we administer health care, especially in rural settings and developing countries where access to medical devices is limited," said Dr. Walter Karlen, co-leader of the study, in this CFRI news release. "With this app, we can give health care workers with few resources faster and more accurate measurements, help them make better decisions, and give them more time with their patients."

The CFRI study, "Improving the Accuracy and Efficiency of Respiratory Rate Measurements in Children Using Mobile Devices," was published in the journal PLOS ONE on June 11. The researchers acquired data from 30 subjects who used the mobile app. The participants used the app while watching an animated video of a breathing baby, timing each breath. The researchers measured the consistency of each interval while conducting a sensitivity analysis (excluding inconsistent tapping) and examining efficiency (time to complete the measurement).

The CFRI and UBC researchers now hope to combine this app with the Phone Oximeter - an app and medical sensor that provides non-invasive measurements of blood oxygen levels with only a light sensor that attaches to a patient's finger and a mobile phone, according to another CFRI news release. This is expected to further expedite the diagnosis process, which would revolutionize the way children are medically examined.

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