Text: Interview by Yann Bernardinelli


The operating room is where neuroanaesthesiologist Patrick Schoettker came up with a device to make measuring blood pressure easier. This innovation captured the attention of Jocelyne Bloch for the paraplegics she treats.

Patrick Schoettker, neuroanaesthesiologist at Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV), regularly has the opportunity to work with neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch. “It gives us a chance to talk about her projects with paraplegics, because she needs to measure patients’ blood pressure continuously and in a reliable, non-invasive way.” It was in the operating room, an environment that is so unique, that Patrick Schoettker designed his smartphone blood pressure monitor, which he is developing with the start-up Biospectal. This is just one of many successful technology transfers resulting from the close cooperation between specialists.

“Heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygenation, all physiological parameters are measured continuously in an operating room to ensure the safety of patients under anaesthesia,” Patrick Schoettker says. That is how he came up with the idea of optimising blood pressure measurement. “We doctors have a lot of ideas, because we know what patients need,” he says.

Until now, blood pressure was measured with an inflatable cuff. A “rudimentary device” the expert says. Patrick Schoettker’s idea is to maximise the understanding of the optical signals already collected in the operating room to extract a blood pressure measure. The heart rate can be read with an optical measurement equivalent to that of the saturometer, placed on the fingertip to measure blood oxygenation. “We have a Swiss patent for the technology,” the neuroanaesthesiologist says. As he is in charge of the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microengineering (CSEM), based in Neuchâtel, Patrick Schoettker took advantage of these ties to invite engineers to the hospital. And the optical blood pressure monitor for the operating room was created.

However, Patrick Schoettker and his team quickly realised that the 1.4 billion people with high blood pressure on the planet almost all have a smartphone with a built-in camera that makes an excellent optical sensor. Therefore potential solutions to help patients outside the operating room had to exist. The group then opened up a line of research to develop a smartphone blood pressure monitor, in collaboration with the start-up Biospectal.

The World Health Organization is currently studying how this technology could be used to help people in poor regions with a high prevalence of hypertension. “People can measure their own blood pressure and send the data to medical professionals. In these areas, there are more smartphones than blood pressure monitors.”

As part of the research led by Jocelyne Bloch and Grégoire Courtine, an initial pilot test was conducted to measure blood pressure on a paraplegic patient using a smartphone.

That is how certain collaborations come to be. Doctors’ creativity and determination, with the support of private partnerships, do the rest. /