Are Apps a Reliable Method to Measure Blood Oxygen Levels?
Tracking SPO2 accurately can be tough without using a clinical-grade fingertip sensor or pulse oximeter. So, what about the apps that are claiming to measure the blood oxygen levels accurately anytime anywhere? Let us explain.
"You do not need to spend on buying an external pulse device. Just download XYZ app that uses your smartphone camera to detect your pulse and oxygen levels from your fingertip. This is an easy and instant method to measure your blood oxygen level with accurate results. Saves data in simple charts to track your progress. Whether you are locked in the home, doing training or exercise download the App today and use your phone’s camera flashlight to monitor your SPO2 anywhere, anytime!”
We recently came across some news articles where some apps are claiming that you can measure your oxygen levels accurately by using the light and camera of your smartphone. These apps are promoted with the description as shared above. But the real question is that are these apps helpful for people with COVID-19 symptoms? Especially those who do not require immediate hospital care but are quarantined home because they are at a high risk of growing serious corona symptoms?
Using Mobile Apps for Measuring SPO2
Multiple brands have come up with pulse oximetry apps that claim accuracy and utility. While we can support these apps, but there is a lack of proper clinical evidence of tracking SPO2 accurately through these apps. Accuracy is questionable as none of them are even FDA approved.
On the launch of MFine pulse app (that claims to empower users to record different health conditions), Dennis Wise/University of Washington shared “The mobile app is not intended to replace oximeter devices, which remain the most accurate way to measure oxygen saturation.” https://www.firstpost.com/health/smartphone-based-tool-mfine-pulse-can-monitor-blood-oxygen-levels-using-just-a-finger-and-a-flash-9519181.html
These apps that are free to use on the smartphones have an issue of reliability with them. The real question is why though? Please read the below carefully and you will know it yourself:
Now we know that there is a clear lack of clinical evidence which proves that smartphone technology is accurate for the measurement of blood oxygen saturation.
Corona Outbreak and Pulse Oximetry
Those days are gone when we only used pulse oximetry in emergencies for tracking patients’ SPO2 levels in hospitals or medical facilities and ambulances. Now with the onset of Covid 19, pulse oximeters are used in every household. It has become an important mandatory medical device during the COVID-19 era because it indicates the SPO2 issues that could be related to COVID-19.
You can also read “The Importance of At-Home Pulse Oximeter in the Times of Covid-19”
Pulse Oximeter vs Apps Technology: A Critical Analysis of Their Working
Standard pulse oximetry depends on the fact that HB and HBO2 (2 forms of the hemoglobin molecules) have light absorption properties that differ with the wavelength in the infrared and visible parts of the range. That means standard pulse oximetry measures light transmission in a particular body part at two wavelengths typically in the infrared and red. In simple words, it is a technique that uses 2 LEDs tuned to the absorption frequency of hemoglobin in its oxygenated and deoxygenated states. On the other hand, app-based devices or smartphones work depending on their cameras and flashlight. They monitor blood oxygen saturation levels by sending LED light via photoreactors to collect data. Basically, the app works like a program on the smartphone that collects data through a camera and a flash. Medical and wearable oximeters both use light to measure SPO2, but the accuracy of results we collect through smartphones is questionable as it solely depends on the type of camera and flash you have in your smartphone.
So, if you have COVID-19 symptoms or any other wellness situation in which SPO2 tracking becomes a must, pulse oximeters are hands down the most reliable solution! Do check out our best rated pulse oximeter from here. Note all, Dr Trust pulse oximeters are CE FDA approved for efficient accuracy. They can also track vitals like heart rate, respiration rate, etc.
Lastly, pulse oximetry is upgrading itself as an app for Android and iOS devices although 100% accuracy is meaningless because of the above-explained reasons. Apps are just useful for checking SPO2 in recreational settings. For absolute accuracy, pulse oximeters are the only solution as they measure accurately and efficiently.