Someday, patients may have small tags placed on their clothing when they enter a hospital or doctor's office waiting room. By the time they actually get tended to, their vital signs will already be known. If so, it'll be thanks to research currently being conducted at Cornell University.

Led by Prof. Edwin Kan, the Cornell team has developed inexpensive microchip tags worn on the chest and wrist, that emit radio waves into the body. Those waves are then reflected back by organs such as the heart as it beats, or by the blood as it pulses, and are detected by a central reader device in the room – that device also wirelessly powers the tags via electromagnetic fields.

Based on the detected movements, it is possible for the system to ascertain vitals such as blood pressure, heart rate and breath rate. The signal is reportedly as accurate as readings obtained using an electrocardiogram or a blood-pressure cuff.

Additionally, because each tag has a unique identification code that it transmits along with its radio signal, a single reader can monitor up to 200 people at once. "If this is an emergency room, everybody that comes in can wear these tags or can simply put tags in their front pockets, and everybody's vital signs can be monitored at the same time," says Kan. "I'll know exactly which person each of the vital signs belongs to."

The scientists have also successfully embroidered the tags into fabric, meaning they could be incorporated directly into clothing. This could conceivably allow for a system wherein users check their own vital signs at home on a daily basis, using tag-equipped clothing and a smartphone app.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Nature Electronics.

Source: Cornell University