Washington, August 30 : IIT-Bombay scientists have developed an inexpensive web-enabled device that can enable doctors to remotely measure lung function in patients with asthma and other disorders, and to quickly instigate medical attention in an emergency.
Vivek Agarwal, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, and his student N.C.S. Ramachandran's system is an easy to operate spirometer that can be quickly hooked up to an internet connection through built-in web and data encryption software.
Currently, the application of spirometers, commonly used to measure lung capacity and the response of breathing during therapy, is limited in the developing world and in remote regions because of the high instrument cost of the instrument and a lack of specialist healthcare workers trained in its use.
Simply monitoring cough and wheezing in asthma sufferers does not always provide an accurate assessment of the severity of their symptoms.
Breathing tests carried out using a spirometer, on the other hand, are much more accurate and can provide a clear indication of whether or not medication has been effective.
The new portable spirometer developed by Prof. Agarwal comprises of a pressure sensor for detecting airflow.
The sensor is fabricated using technology similar to that for manufacturing computer chips, and is based on microelectromechanical system (MEMS).
The MEMS spirometer can measures the flow and volume of air moving in and out of the patient's lungs.
According to the researchers, the use of mass production techniques for making the MEMS sensor means the device can be inexpensive, small, and so portable.
They believe that the embedding of the necessary electronics and software to allow it to connect to a computer and the Web make it ideal for remote monitoring by a patient's healthcare worker.
"Not only can the remotely located patient consult a specialist, the specialist too can instruct the patient for specific test procedures and treatment," the researchers say.