University of Toronto supports COVID-19 patient monitoring with Raspberry Pi

A member of the Raspberry Pi community in Ontario, Canada spotted this story from the University of Toronto on CBC News. Engineers have created a device that enables healthcare workers to monitor COVID-19 patients continuously without the need to enter their hospital rooms.

Continuous, remote monitoring

Up-to-date information can be checked from any nursing station computer or smartphone. This advance could prove invaluable in conserving Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supplies, which staff have to don for each hospital room visit. It also allows for the constant monitoring of patients at a time when hospital workers are extremely stretched.

Mount Sinai Hospital approached the University of Toronto’s engineering department to ask for their help in finding a way to monitor vital signs both continuously and remotely. A team of three PhD students, led by Professor Willy Wong, came up with the solution in just three days.

Communicating finger-clip monitor measurements

The simple concept involves connecting a Raspberry Pi 4 to standard finger-clip monitors, already in use across the hospital to monitor the respiratory status of COVID-19 patients. The finger clips detect what light is absorbed by the blood in a patient’s finger. Blood absorbs different colours of light to different degrees depending on how well oxygenated it is, so these measurements tell medical staff whether patients might be having difficulty with breathing.

The Raspberry Pi communicates this information over a wireless network to a server that Wong’s team deployed, allowing the nurses’ station computers or doctors’ smartphones to access data on how their patients are doing. This relieves staff of the need enter patients’ rooms to check the data output on bedside monitors.

Photo by Professor Wong, sourced from CBC News

A successful prototype

Feedback has been unanimously positive since several prototypes were deployed in a trial at Mount Sinai. And a local retirement home has been in touch to ask about using the invention to help care for their residents. Professor Wong says solutions like this one are a “no-brainer” when trying to monitor large groups of people as healthcare workers battle COVID-19. “This was a quintessentially electrical and computer engineering problem,” he explains.

Professor Wong’s team included PhD candidates Bill Shi, Yan Li, and Brian Wang.

The University of Toronto is also home to engineers who are currently developing an automated, more sensitive and rapid test for COVID-19. You can read more about their project, which is based on quantum dots – nano-scale particles that bind to different components of the virus’s genetic material and glow brightly in different colours when struck by light. This gives multiple data points per patient sample and provides increased confidence in test results.


James Carroll avatar

I’d love to have a device like this. I have Sleep Apnea and being able to log my oxygen level while sleeping would be very useful. I think a Pi Zero would probably work as well as the Pi4 for this. Great article, some good PR for the Pi as well.

Jack Chaney avatar

I like the idea of making a sleep monitoring system for early diagnosis of apnoea. Perhaps it could also have an audio input to either record or analyze breathing.

IanD avatar

There was also mention of a Pi-powered ventilator on BBC news last week which doesn’t seem to have made it to the blog:

Michael P avatar

Another wonder of RPi. Well done.

DavidB avatar

On the topic of Raspberry Pi computers use in healthcare, there is an international open-source ventilator project called Mechanical Ventilator Milano (MVM). They are using a Raspberry Pi 4 to run the display with touch controls and an ESP32 module to interface with the electromechanical bits (valves, etc.)

DavidB avatar

Sorry! You can visit the website at:
The main website is a bit bland (I guess they are working on the ventilator, not the website!) but there are more photos on their “press kit” page:

Sharad kumar maltare avatar

It’s really very helpful and heart touching stories from raspberry family.
Sure it will bring more wonderful applications in near future.
New Delhi, India

Jason M avatar

I’d love to see some technical info on this project. As others have mentioned, it would be a very useful tool for patient care and monitoring at home as well. Maybe some open source software will appear soon? Just about any medical technology is sure to be a popular project in the community. With the rising availability of cheap medical sensors like pulse oximeters, fingertip EKG’s, wireless blood pressure monitors, etc. a great project would be one that could interface with them and store/display the data via an app on a smartphone. I can only imagine the AI powered data analysis that would then be possible using such data. The world of Big Medical Data is in full swing!

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