Luminate winner VPG Medical Inc. has launched a free wellness tracker for Monroe County residents during the coronavirus outbreak. The tracker leverages the company’s HealthKam Technology to detect high heart rate, a possible sign of fever or other issues.
Though VPG Medical’s tracker is not a substitute for a thermometer, it can prompt an individual, based on an elevated heart rate, to check body temperature. Various health authorities note that the symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, difficulty breathing and fatigue.
VPG Medical’s technology—an app—uses cameras embedded in smartphones and tablets to track the heart rate of a person over time.
“Over the past few years, we acquired lots of data using HealthKam across many demographics. We have a robust technique for measuring pulse passively with the video cameras embedded into smart devices and laptops,” says Jean-Philippe Couderc, CEO of VPG Medical.
HealthKam technology quietly monitors heart rate during the use of smart devices, such as reading emails or surfing the web. It does this by detecting the very slight changes in color that occur in the facial skin when a person’s heart beats. Resting heart rates—50 beats to 90 beats per minute—have been shown to rise by 7 beats to 10 beats per minute for every degree of a fever.
“HealthKam works in the background as soon as users start their smart device. There is no need to follow any specific procedure, our monitoring is effortless for the users, no need to think about it. Healthkam monitors heart rate while an individual works on emails or watches their favorite series on their tablet…” Couderc says. “Each time you use your smart device, you acquire information about your heart rate.”
The application then sends daily reports of heart rate, and its trend over time, to the user and authorized caregivers. In addition to serving as an early indicator of a fever, tracking heart rate serves as an indicator of dangerously high-stress levels and other potential health conditions.
A developer of advanced solutions for the home-based health monitoring and personalized wellness markets, VPG Medical was born out of research at the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology. It was the second-place winner in the Luminate accelerator’s second cohort. VPG Medical began to commercialize its technology for passively detecting heart rate through camera sensors a couple of years ago.
“Six years ago, we started developing a method to extract information about heart activity using expensive video equipment. Over the years, we were able to have this technology working with cameras embedded in smart devices such as smartphone, tablets and laptop computers,” Couderc says. “Today HealthKam is used by cardiac patients in our community, and we are currently evaluating how the technology can detect the presence of atrial fibrillation in a large clinical trial.”
Though VPG started with a focus on cardiac arrhythmias, it has since found its technology to be applicable in other areas, such as medication compliance. For example, if a patient skips a medication, depending on the type of drug, it could have an impact on the resting heart rate.
With the pandemic, the symptom of high fever and its association with an elevated heart rate has become a way for VPG Medical to help the local community with its technology.
“Our technology provides a tool to continuously monitor your heart without the hassle of purchasing a new wearable sensor or attaching any device to your body,” Couderc says. “We are happy to provide our technology for free during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic to Monroe County residents. HealthKam can detect abnormal elevated daily resting heart rates over a couple of days, an unexpected elevated daily heart rate persisting for a couple of days, especially above 90 beats per minute, should not be neglected.”
VPG Medical’s tool currently works on certain devices that use the Android platform. The iOS version is under development, Couderc says. The company plans to expand the availability of the tracker in Monroe County and other areas as quickly as possible. More information on the app during the COVID-19 crisis is available here.
“Because HealthKam is just an app, we can quickly distribute this tool to many people wherever they are, and track their heart rate without asking them to leave their home at a time of required confinement,” Couderc says.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. (Disclosure: Beacon publisher Alex Zapesochny is chairman of VPG Medical.)