A new mobile app developed by University of British Columbia researchers, in collaboration with the Child & Family Research Institute (CFRI) at BC Children’s Hospital, can measure respiratory rate in children roughly six times faster than the standard manual method.
According to findings recently published in PLOS One, RRate can reliably measure respiratory rate in an average of 9.9 seconds. Currently, health care workers typically measure respiratory rate by counting a patient’s breaths for 60 seconds using a stopwatch.
“Mobile phones are changing how we administer health care, especially in rural settings and developing countries where access to medical devices is limited,” says Dr. Walter Karlen, who co-led the study with Dr. Heng Gan. “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.”
Researchers say this is a big step towards better diagnoses of pneumonia and other illnesses. Pneumonia is the leading cause of death of children worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. With timely and accurate diagnosis, children with pneumonia can often be saved with simple interventions such as antibiotics.
RRate allows workers to measure respiratory rate by tapping the touch screen every time the child inhales. In addition to calculating the rate of inhalations during a given time, the app also provides an animation of a breathing baby allowing for a direct comparison with the breathing patient. A free, non-study version of the app is available online.
The next stage of this research is to further improve the diagnosis of pneumonia in low-resources settings by combining this app with the Phone Oximeter. Developed by CFRI and UBC researchers, the Phone Oximeter provides non-invasive measurements of blood oxygen levels using a light sensor and a mobile phone.
Dr. Walter Karlen is a UBC Postdoctoral Fellow. At the time of this study, Dr. Heng Gan was a Clinical Research Fellow. Both are working with Dr. Mark Ansermino and Dr. Guy Dumont at CFRI, UBC and BC Children’s. Study co-authors included Dr. Ansermino, Dr. Dumont, and Dustin Dunsmuir of CFRI, BC Children’s and UBC; and Michelle Chiu and Guohai Zhou of UBC.
Researchers collected data from 30 subjects who used the app while watching videos of children breathing at different rates. Using these findings, they developed an algorithm that enabled the app to produce accurate measurements in the least amount of time.
Dr. Heng Gan:
“This simple, but innovative piece of technology is a big step towards better diagnoses for children with pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses,” says Dr. Gan.
Dr. Walter Karlen:
“We are leveraging the phones’ capabilities of computing, touch screen, and vibrational feedback to measure respiratory rate faster and with more confidence,” says Dr. Karlen.
The Child & Family Research Institute conducts discovery, translational and clinical research to benefit the health of children and their families. CFRI is supported by BC Children’s Hospital Foundation and works in close partnership with the University of British Columbia,
BC Children’s Hospital, and BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre (agencies of the Provincial Health Services Authority). For more information, visit www.cfri.ca.
BC Children’s Hospital, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, is British Columbia’s only pediatric hospital and home to many specialized pediatric services available nowhere else in the province, including B.C.’s trauma centre for children, pediatric intensive care, kidney and bone marrow transplants, open heart surgery, neurosurgery and cancer treatment. Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children is the provincial facility that offers specialized child development and rehabilitation services to children and youth. For more information, please visit www.bcchildrens.ca.
The Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) plans, manages and evaluates selected specialty and province-wide health care services across BC, working with the five geographic health authorities to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit www.phsa.ca.
The University of British Columbia (UBC) is one of North America’s largest public research and teaching institutions,and is consistently ranked among the world’s 40 best universities. Surrounded by the beauty of the Canadian West, it is a place that inspires bold, new ways of thinking that have helped make it a national leader in areas as diverse as community service learning, sustainability and research commercialization. UBC offers more than 58,000 students a range of innovative programs and attracts $519 million per year in research funding from government, non-profit organizations and industry through over 8,000 projects and grants. For more information, please visit www.ubc.ca.