Wearables seem to have found their niche in healthcare sector. There are a number of companies working to develop wearables that can help make patient care timely, effective and accessible anywhere and anytime. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is one such university where doctors and engineers are collaborating to come up with a wearable device that can measure key vital signs by connecting parts of a contraption to patients fingertips or lips.

MouthLab, still a prototype, is the device that uses sensors on the mouthpiece and thumb pad to test patient’s blood pressure, breathing, blood oxygen, heart rate and heartbeat pattern. The mouthpiece is small and flexible — similar to the one used by scuba divers — and holds sensor for temperature and blood volume. It is connected to a handheld unit that is size of a phone receiver. The thumb pad on the side contains a miniaturized pulse oximeter that beams light to measure blood oxygen levels. Other sensors measure breathing from the nose and mouth. Besides these sensors, MouthLab has three electrodes for taking electrocardiograms (ECGs). These electrodes are on the thumb pad, the upper lip of the mouthpiece, and the lower lip. MouthLab has unique software that can derive the systolic and diastolic blood pressure from the pulse ox and ECG data. When the signal shows the heart contracting, the device optically measures changes in the volume of blood reaching the thumb and upper lip. Data is transmitted wirelessly directly to a laptop or smart device where the results can be graphed, analyzed, and stored.

The researchers working to create the MouthLab hope to refine it so that it is capable of collecting a patient’s vital signs in less than ten seconds. In the future, they also hope to be able to analyze chemical biomarkers in the patient’s saliva, such as glucose levels or indicators for cancer or kidney failure. The MouthLab has the potential to replace the expensive and bulky monitors and displays used by hospitals to gather vital signs. The device even could become a part of a telemedicine system that will allow patients to take their own vital signs at home and have them relayed automatically to their medical health record (MHR) for review by physicians and other healthcare professionals.