The technology in smartwatches and fitness trackers that can monitor our heart rate could be used to transform health and fitness monitoring in daily life and directly inform clinical decision making, according to a comprehensive new ‘Roadmap’ published today.
The full potential of the sensing technology, called wearable photoplethysmography, is explored in the ‘2023 Wearable Photoplethysmography Roadmap’, which outlines directions for research and development.
Photoplethysmography is already widely used in clinical practice for health monitoring. It entered clinical use in the 1980s in the form of pulse oximeters, and is now widely included in smartwatches and fitness trackers. Pulse oximetry was deemed important enough for its inventor to be nominated for a Nobel Prize. Now, wearable photoplethysmography is emerging as a potential technology to monitor cardiovascular fitness, track sleep quality, and detect early signs of disease.
The Roadmap, edited by Dr Peter Charlton at the Primary Care Unit, University of Cambridge, is available free for anyone who wants to understand the direction of travel for research on this new technology.
It covers 24 key topics within the areas of sensor design, signal processing, clinical applications, and research directions, drawing together contributions from over 50 experts.
Wearable photoplethysmography is enormously valuable because it can be used for unobtrusive health monitoring at scale – it’s used by millions of people everyday in their smartwatches and fitness trackers, though it only reached the consumer market a decade ago.
The new Roadmap brings together the perspectives of experts from all over the world to explore the opportunities and challenges in the field of wearable photoplethysmography, and we hope it will act as a useful guide to future research and development.”
– Dr Peter Charlton, British Heart Foundation research fellow, Primary Care Unit, University of Cambridge
To realise the full benefits, explained Dr Charlton, the technology should be developed to provide extensive physiological information which can be reliably used in clinical decision making.
What’s in the Roadmap?
The Roadmap provides an update on recent innovative photoplethysmography sensor designs, including flexible tattoo sensors, in-ear sensors, and multi-wavelength photoplethysmography.
The Roadmap describes recent advances photoplethysmography signal processing, including blood pressure, respiratory and sleep monitoring. It highlights the need to further develop strategies to handle low quality signals and motion artifact.
The Roadmap describes several potential applications of wearable photoplethysmography, ranging from established applications such as the detection of atrial fibrillation, to emerging applications such as mental health assessment.
Key directions for future research in wearable photoplethysmography are set out. They include designing device validation protocols, investigating sources of inaccuracy in wearable photoplethysmography measurements, and investigating whether alternative sensing technologies may be more suitable than photoplethysmography for long-term monitoring.
Dr Charlton’s work to develop the Roadmap was supported by the British Heart Foundation and European Cooperation in Science and Technology, and the research described within the Roadmap was supported by numerous funders worldwide, all acknowledged within the text.
Please contact: Dr Peter Charlton