Biospectal, a Swiss company specializing in biosensing technology, has taken aim at a weak link in personal blood pressure management: the blood pressure cuff. A large-scale study conducted at the CHUV hospital at the University Lausanne has validated this effort. The study verified that Biospectal’s optical blood pressure (BP) measurement system, OptiBP, provides the same level of accuracy as a traditional arm cuff.

Also called hypertension, high blood pressure affects an estimated 1.13 billion adults worldwide. Called the “silent killer,” hypertension typically doesn’t cause symptoms on its own, but over time it contributes to stroke, heart failure, and other potentially fatal conditions. Although lowering BP reduces the risk of complications significantly, only about 1 in five adults with hypertension succeed at controlling their BP. 

OptiBP relies on a smartphone camera to perform a process called photoplethysmography (PPG). When the user presses their finger against the camera lens, the OptiBP software records patterns of low-intensity infrared light wave absorption by blood vessels under the skin. The OptiBP mobile app then uses AI analysis of these signals during the diastolic and systolic pulse phases to calculate the user’s blood pressure. OptiBP does require a one-time calibration with a BP cuff before use.

The app lets users track information, offers insights, and makes it easy to share BP data with their provider. More frequent measurements taken in the patient’s day-to-day environment also provide a clearer picture of BP than those taken only at doctor visits.

At-home BP monitoring increases patient understanding about how interventions like medication and lifestyle changes affect blood pressure and helps providers determine which interventions are working. In the past, patients had to purchase a medical-grade BP cuff to take readings at home, meaning that efficient BP monitoring remained available only to patients of a certain income level. Some hearables now include an optical BP sensor, offering varying degrees of accuracy. But these options can still involve prohibitive extra costs.

Smartphones, however, are increasingly affordable; ownership now spans virtually all geographics and income levels. Other entities have explored smartphone BP technology, but the OptiBP study has caused a noticeable stir. The results, published in Nature: Scientific Reports in December 2020, suggest that PPG technology could significantly reduce in-person provider visits during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It may also mean that we have a new weapon for the global fight against the silent killer right in the palm of our hands.