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A Doctor Almost at Your Fingertip

May 07, 1997|NEWSDAY

Big Brother, it turns out, may soon reside in a pinky ring.

A small, electronically equipped ring has been designed that can monitor your health--keeping track of who you are and where you are and constantly measuring your pulse rate and blood oxygen. The data is transmitted to nearby radio receivers, letting a doctor follow you around, sort of.

The new system "is primarily for monitoring elderly people who live alone," said engineer Harry Asada, who was a co-developer of the ring at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Data collected via the ring is monitored by a computer, which alerts the doctor if something is amiss.

The ring-borne warning system could also be used to keep close tabs on the health of patients who have recently been released from hospitals, Asada said.

The ring is now just a prototype, said co-developer and engineer Boo Ho Yang. It's about an inch in diameter, and not ready for commercial production. "We're trying to develop a new prototype that is lighter and smaller," he said.

Then, Yang said, the ring will be "a very compact device, and the patient can wear it 24 hours a day, anywhere, even in the shower." In fact, he said, that could be important: "The bathroom is the most dangerous place for elderly people."

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