Microsoft Research Blog

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A Smart Duo: Fetal Monitors and Mobile Technology

April 7, 2010 | By Microsoft blog editor

At the heart of the thousands of debates and discussions regarding healthcare is the age-old and industry-agnostic issue of supply and demand. On one side of the equation there are hospitals, healthcare practitioners, equipment, research and many other factors. On the other side there are billions of people living throughout the world, each of whom have a unique set of conditions and needs—many without access to healthcare providers.


The ability to leverage the power of mobile technology in order to develop a point-of-care diagnostic tool is what inspired Microsoft Research to partner with researchers at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia to develop affordable, portable fetal monitors. With financial, software and hardware support from Microsoft External Research, the Australian team developed a software application that can be downloaded at no cost to any Windows Mobile smartphone that, when connected to a low-cost fetal monitor, allows expectant mothers to track fetal heart rate and other activities within the womb. That data, in turn, can be transmitted – in much the same way an image would be sent via a text message – to obstetricians, midwives and other healthcare professionals near and far. The technology behind the monitors is Doppler radar to track the baby’s movements.


The monitors can also be used to track and relay critical information during premature births, a special concern for the researchers in Australia, where indigenous women in remote and rural areas experience premature births, fetal deaths and other complications twice as often as other Australian women. Martin Masek, one of the project’s principals, discussed its implications in this video, shot last year at the mHealth Summit.


Of the many compelling aspects of this project, its global applicability is of particular interest. With nearly 90 percent of the world’s population now living in an area that can send and receive cell phone signals, the technology solution is truly scalable: The combination of smartphones and medical technology has the potential to be deployed almost anywhere.  That, in addition to the technology’s cost of less than $100 US, could have enormous implications not only for developing nations, but for areas of countries including the U.S. where accessibility to quality healthcare remains an issue due to geographic or socioeconomic factors.


Kristin Tolle, director, Natural User Interfaces for Healthcare, Microsoft External Research