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REMOTE MONITORING OF CARDIAC ELECTRICAL ACTIVITY USING A CELL PHONE DEVICE
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
 This invention relates to remote health monitoring. In particular, it relates to a device whereby cardiac signals such as human heart rate, electrocardiogram (ECG) and other vital signs may be acquired by a patient and transmitted to a remote location.
BACKGROUND TO THE INVENTION
 In the field of cardiology, devices exist that use telephones to transmit a patient's ECG data from the patient's location to a monitoring clinic or doctor's office. Examples include so-called cardiac loop event recorders. These are connected via cables to ECG gel electrodes, quasi-permanently attached to the patient. These devices are able to record ECG data of the patient during arrhythmias.
 Other hand-held recorder devices exist that possess permanent, metallic electrodes arranged in a planar configuration, all on one side of the device. These must be temporarily held by the patient against the patient's chest skin in order to pickup the cardiac signal.
 Still other devices of the prior art require the patient's two thumbs to be placed on independent, co-planar electrodes on one face of the device.
 Traditionally, all these types of devices transmit stored patient ECG data to the monitoring clinic or the doctor's office using a conventional telephone. This is accomplished via an audio signal, which the device modulates with the patient's ECG and which is transmitted through the telephone and subsequently de-modulated by a modem or receiver/adapter at the clinic or doctor's office.
 Cardiac monitors based on the co-planar electrode arrangements have also been proposed on the back of a cell phone. One example is U.S. Pat. No. 6,485,416 (November 2002). These require the user to hold the device against the bare skin of the chest, thus not enabling simultaneous vocal communication while monitoring.
 U.S. Pat. No. 5,772,586 issued to Nokia Mobile Phones Ltd. describes the transmission of blood glucose data by cell phone. Sensor electronics are restricted to the battery case location and no special consideration is given to ECG.
 U.S. Pat. No. 6,102,856 "Wearable Vital Signs Monitoring System" (August 2000) specifies a wireless transmission device to be worn on the chest with various sensors affixed to the patient.
 U.S. Pat. No. 5,544,661 entitled "Real-Time Ambulatory Patient Monitor" (August 1996) describes a portable device possessing ECG and photo-plethysmograph (blood oxygen) sensors connected to the patient and providing "wireless wide-area" communications.
 In all the above cases, bio-signal monitoring is not accomplished in the posture of normal speaking or communications over a phone handset. In most of the above cases, multiple devices and sensors are required, making the devices more cumbersome to operate than an ordinary telephone or cell phone.
 U.S. Pat. No. 6,549,756 (Apr. 15, 2003) describes portable palm-sized personal data communications devices and cellphones fitted with non-co-planar blood-flow sensors. These are designed to maximize the number of sensors in contact with the hand of the user holding the device. This allows for bio-signal monitoring while the device is in normal use for data communications. However the biosensors described are incapable of ECG pickup and, due to human body physiology, use of multiple contact points on a single hand of a person as described does not propose acquisition of bio-signals while the telephone unit is positioned for voice communication.
 No prior art telephonic device has been proposed that enables ECG or bio-signal collection from the user while the user is holding the device in the position for ordinary use for communications.
 It would be desirable for a device to detect and transmit bio-signals such as ECG while being positioned for use essentially as an ordinary telephone. Such a system would offer convenience and would enable real-time or simultaneous bio-signal transmission and verbal communications with the health practitioner, thus providing the patient with instant feedback while saving millions of dollars in healthcare costs.
 A consideration in realizing this goal is that, during normal communications, hand-held telephonic devices typically contact the user's body at one hand and at the head. However, commercial cardiac pickup devices of the prior art do not use the head as a pickup location for ECG.
 It has been known in the field of medical research that a person's head can be used as one locus for the pickup of ECG signals. In order to generate a difference potential due to cardiac activity, a second pickup electrode must be placed on the torso, arm or leg of the person. Such an arrangement may also provide a differential-type pickup with common mode noise rejection. Due to human body physiology, electrodes placed on the head and left arm produce ECG-like signals on most people.
 Other physiologic signals can also be acquired from the head. These include plethysmograph (blood oxygen and pulse) from the ear lobe, and temperature sensing from the inner ear.
 The simultaneous handling of bio-signals, once acquired, and audio signals through a telephone or cellular phone can be performed by known technology in a number of ways. These can be classified into four broad categories: Analog Half-Duplex, Analog Full Duplex, Digital HalfDuplex, and Digital Full-Duplex.
 A number of present technologies and emerging digital data systems and cellular phone systems enable alternating, or simultaneous, real-time voice and data transmission. An opportunity exists for these technologies to be combined to produce a new and effective system for the remote transmission of bio-signals with the added feature of providing real-time voice telephonic communication between the patient and medical professionals even though they are located at a distance.
 The invention in its general form will first be described, and then its implementation in terms of specific embodiments will be detailed with reference to the drawings
following hereafter. These embodiments are intended to demonstrate the principle of the invention, and the manner of its implementation. The invention in its broadest and more specific forms will then be further described and defined in each of the individual claims, which conclude this specification.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
 The invention is directed to a hand-held, vital signs monitoring device incorporated with, or accompanying a telephone handset or cell phone.
 The invention is particularly suited to a hand-held sensor system incorporating one of a variety of head-source bio-sensors, including sensors for blood oxygen, pulse, body-temperature, and ECG incorporated with or accompanying a telephone handset or cell phone.
 The invention provides a means by which these signals, including the head-to-arm ECG signal, may be conveniently acquired and telephonically transmitted by the patient via a single, hand-held device, in the form of a telephone handset or a cell phone, while the device is in the position for ordinary communications. "Telephonic communications" as used herein includes transmission of data over a system that will accommodate acoustic, e.g. voice, communications.
 The invention therefore enables the simultaneous or alternate communication of bio-data and voice without the need for any interruption arising from repositioning of the device.
 According to one aspect, the invention can be realized as a specially designed telephone handset or a specially designed cell phone. According to another aspect, the invention can be realized as a harness, case, attachment, or glove designed to be carried by an existing telephone handset or an existing cell phone.
 In both aspects, the invention addresses a specially designed telephone handset or cell phone, or a harness or case designed to be carried by an existing telephone handset or an existing cell phone, which device embodies:
 a) a first sensor to be carried on the outer surface of the device in order to establish a first contact with the user's head and receive bio-signals through such first contact;
 b) a pickup signal conditioning circuit carried by the device connected to the first sensor to condition received signals for telephonic communication; and
 c) a telephonic communication circuit connected to the signal conditioning circuit to provide a telephonic signal corresponding to the bio-signal data for telephonic communication,
 whereby the simultaneous or alternate communication of bio-data and voice may occur without the need for any interruption arising from repositioning of the device.
 For the purpose of ECG, a second sensor is positioned on another portion of the surface of the device to establish a second contact with the user's hand to also effect the acquisition of bio-signals through such second contact. Both the first and second sensors may then serve as ECG
pickup electrodes for delivery of bio-signals to a differential amplifier contained within the signal conditioning circuit. In addition to the two pickup electrodes, the device of the invention for ECG may also carry a third electrode to serve as a reference electrode, preferably ohmic with a low coupling impedance, positioned to contact either the user's head or the hand when the device is in use and connected to the common for such circuit. The reference electrode serves to establish a reference voltage (ground) for the differential amplifier and improves common mode noise rejection. This reference electrode may be mounted proximately to either the first or the second pickup electrode.
 The invention is suitable for ECG but is not restricted to ECG. Other bio-sensors can be incorporated to acquire bio-signals e.g. monitoring of blood oxygen, pulse, and ear temperature etc. The invention therefore enables the pickup, and real-time assessment of the patient's vital signs. Instant feedback can be provided to the patient, as can simultaneous or alternate bio-signal and voice communication during apparently normal telephonic exchange without the need for any interruption arising from repositioning of the device.
 According to the invention, the sensed bio-signal is provided to the conditioning circuit, which conditions it to provide the signal, or a surrogate of said signal, for telephonic transmission. Conditioning may include a differential amplifier, a filter, an analysis circuit based upon algorithms to partially analyse the bio-signal before transmission, a compression circuit, a digitising circuit and other known signal manipulating means. Memory may also be provided for delayed transmission of signals. Accordingly, variants of the invention can transmit either the bio-signal, in analog or digitised form, or surrogates for the bio-signal, in real time or on a delayed basis.
 A memory in the conditioning circuit may be used to store signals for delayed transmission. Conveniently, an archive memory may be used to store standard bio-data such as standard ECG trace of the user, acquired when the user is healthy. This archived bio-signal may then be sent to distant medical professions, along with contemporary signals, when the user/patient is having a crisis.
 When the invention is incorporated into a case, harness, or glove designed to be carried by an existing telephone or cell phone, either an acoustic coupling means or an electrical connection may be employed in order to convey the bio-signal into the telephonic transmission portion of the combined device. In the case of use of a cell phone for ECG, the first and second pickup electrodes, the reference electrode (preferentially all ohmic), and the electrical circuitry of the invention may readily be carried within a case or attachment, coupled to the cell phone by an internal or external connector which extends from the circuitry of the invention to the microphone or data port of the cell phone to permit inclusion of the bio-signal into the cell phone's telephonic communications. A control switch may allow user control to toggle the telephonic communication between bio-signal and voice-only transmissions. Alternately, bio-signal and voice telephonic transmissions, including simultaneous transmissions, may be effected by any one of known means for combining voice and data communication, as further elaborated below.
 The electrode placement of the invention on the hand-held telephonic device provides for bio-signal pickup