LGTmedical powers low-cost devices through mobile's headphone jack

By Neil Versel

LGTMedical Pulse OximiterThis month, LionsGate Technologies, also known as LGTmedical, announced a new approach to mobile medical diagnostic technology. Instead of building medical devices with integrated displays that transmit data to smartphones via Bluetooth or the phone's dock connector or USB port, the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company is using the phone's — or tablet's or PC's — audio jack to run low-power diagnostic equipment and taking advantage of the host computer's superior processing capability.

Researchers from the Department of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, at the University of British Columbia, who developed the technology were trying to answer one question, according to LGTmedical President and CEO Tom Walker: "Can the phone drive the sensor through the audio jack?" The answer, they found, was yes.

"The notion was to try to reduce the design costs," Walker says. He notes that mobile health devices compatible with Apple's proprietary iPhone dock connector tend to be more expensive than standalone home health devices. Likewise, devices with wireless Bluetooth radios aboard also cost more than their non-connected counterparts.

With this in mind, LGTmedical has been testing its own, proprietary interface called Vital Signs DSP (which stands for "digital signal processor") in a pulse oximeter called the Phone Oximeter that clips onto a fingertip.

A phone app or small piece of computer software powers the sensor and processes the data so the device does not have to, and thus can be as simple as possible. "We want to leverage the phone for more than just the display," Walker says.

The oximeter only has LEDs, not a power-hungry display. Instead, all the data appears on the phone, tablet or computer screen. "It eliminates the external power supply," Walker explains. It also keeps the cost down; LGTmedical expects to sell its diagnostic devices for $10 to $40 and sees a big market opportunity to bring diagnostic medicine to poor regions of the world.

When paired with the Vital Signs DSP, the same basic headphone jack can drive different types of medical sensors such as blood pressure cuffs and thermometers, according to Walker. "Again, universality works in our favor."

Walker says that UBC researchers have conducted usability studies of the oximeter in Kampala, Uganda, as well as in Vancouver. In the West, he believes the technology would be well-suited for chronic care. "It's more than just an emerging-market opportunity," Walker says.

Walker says researchers at the University of British Columbia have conducted an investigational trial of the accuracy of the oximeter, and publication is pending in an unspecified forum. "Results are promising," according to Walker, who says that the phone-powered oximeter is proving to be accurate.

Walker anticipates market launch in the U.S., Canada and parts of Europe in late 2013, pending regulatory approval. The company will seek clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada, and also will pursue the CE Mark.

For more, watch this LGTmedical video demonstration of the Phone Oximeter.