I Have High Hopes for This Cuffless Blood Pressure Monitor. Here's Why
Valencell's calibration-free clip aims to make measurements a lot more portable.
Scott SteinEditor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
ExpertiseVR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tabletsCredentials
Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Taking your blood pressure reading in the middle of a crowded show floor at CES in Las Vegas is never a great idea, especially when dehydrated and wearing a mask. But I had to try out Valencell's clip-on finger-based blood pressure measurement device, announced at CES 2023, for myself because I really, really want it to work for my own life. (For more on how the device works, read the story link above.)
I have high blood pressure, take medication for it, and have been trying to find better solutions than a standard cuff for years. No one's cracked it, really. Companies like Omron have made inflatable-cuff watches (which work), and others have tried to turn smartwatch heart rate sensors into blood pressure tools (which need calibration with an actual cuff).
Valencell, a company that's been making optical heart-rate sensors for wearables and other devices for years, has made its own device that's aiming for a 2023 release, and is pursuing Food and Drug Administration clearance as a true over-the-counter blood pressure solution.
I last met with Valencell in person at the last CES I attended in January 2020. We spoke again in 2021, when it looked like finger-based measurement devices were just around the corner. As with many wearables, the process of clearance has been slow. But this is the most close-to-release product I've seen from the company.
The clip-on, which looks a lot like a little portable pulse oximetry device you might use for checking blood oxygen, just needs your middle finger for a spot check that measures blood pressure and connects to an app on your phone.
It doesn't do pulse oximetry, though, for a reason: According to the company's co-founder Stephen LeBouef, who guided me through giving myself a test, combining health features on one device slows down the clearance process. No company to date has emerged with a clear next-gen blood pressure sensor on watches or wearables yet, although Samsung has tried and come close. Rather than embedding the technology on another consumer product and then submitting for clearance, Valencell is just getting the ball rolling on its own.
My blood pressure reading was, well, high. It got better on the second reading. First of all, I was dehydrated, tired, stressed and wearing a mask, which can increase blood pressure readings. I didn't have a blood pressure cuff with me to compare the reading results, though.
Valecell's tech requires a profile setup that uses your height and weight to set how the algorithms interpret PPG (photoplethysmography, or using light to measure blood flow) as blood pressure measurements. The one drawback LeBouef mentions is that high blood pressures may not fully read properly: After a systolic pressure reading of 180 (which is super high, meaning you should see a cardiologist right away), specific readings beyond that may not be as accurate. But at that point, you'd know in theory that your blood pressure was still high.
Valencell is targeting around $99 for the price, although the prototype I used is still being developed, and things could change. That's more than some existing inflatable cuffs, but not as high as I'd expected.
It's a lot more portable than a cuff and, if it works as promised, it could be a huge help. It sounds more like a device you'd use to check in, and follow up with a cuff reading to confirm. But if it meant more spot checks than I normally do with my own inflatable cuff, that alone could be worth it.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.