You are here

A mobile based technology to improve newborn healthcare in rural areas

Engineers from the Indian Institute of Science have developed a system through which doctors can monitor the core body temperature of the newborns, on their mobile phones. This will go a long way in managing health complications arising out of a small dip in body temperature of the newborns.

Newborns are really sensitive. Their normal body temperature is 370 C, and if it drops by half a degree Celsius, they develop hypothermia, a condition which could lead to irregular breathing, slow heart rate, low blood sugar levels, and in severe cases, even the death of the newborn. This condition is especially dangerous in premature babies, as they are born with below normal weight and under-developed heat circulation mechanisms.

However, in rural India, where the access to reliable medical facilities is limited, something as simple a task as measuring the body temperature becomes challenge. The invention from the IISc researchers can be a boon to such rural communities.

The system is quite simple to use. It has a temperature sensor that is tied to the newborn through a belt. The sensor constantly monitors the core body temperature, and communicates the readings to doctor's smart phone or the computer. The transfer of data from the sensor to the smart phone happens via 'Bluetooth Low Energy', a technology that consumes substantially less power than the normal Bluetooth. This has two advantages: the sensor battery runs longer, and the possible harmful effects of radiation on the newborn are reduced. The device alerts the doctor when the body temperature drops below a critical value. The doctors are also alerted when the device is removed from the newborn, say during bath.

“A thermometer is common, but using it wirelessly on a newborn is the challenge”, says Bharadwaj Amrutur, Professor in the Department of Electrical Communication Engineering, IISc, who conceived the project. Today the system is being developed in collaboration with St John's Research Institute and St John's Hospital, Bengaluru. The project is jointly led by Prof. Bharadwaj of IISc and Prof Prem Mony of St. John’s Research Institute and St. John’s Hospital. Robert Bosch Centre for Cyber-Physical Systems at IISc has funded the project.

The researchers have taken care to make the device as newborn-friendly as possible. The sensors are water proof, damage resistant, soft on baby's delicate skin and can be easily sterilised. It runs on low power, reads temperature accurately under different environmental conditions and doesn't require frequent battery replacement. This device is currently undergoing testing in St. John’s Hospital and has shown promising results. Now, it is ready to be deployed in other hospitals as well.

Apart from the temperature of a new born, other parameters like pulse, rate of respiration and oxygen content in blood are crucial factors to monitor. The researchers are developing systems to wirelessly monitor these parameters too.

After seeing satisfactory results in the hospital, the team now wants to take the device to the villages, where they are needed most. “Driven by the need for monitoring the necessary factors in a new born, we have developed this device which seems to be giving very satisfying results. We intend to next focus on some of the villages on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border, where such medical care facilities are lacking”, says Prof Bharadwaj Amrutur.

Contact: Prof Bhardwaj Amrutur can be contacted at +91-80-2293-3172.