Cambridge University students are aiming to raise money to make a biometric device that could enable health workers in rural areas within developing countries to locate patient records more easily.

The £30 SimPrint device, developed by students on the Bill Gates scholarship programme, scans a patient’s fingerprint and brings up their records on a health worker's smartphone via a Bluetooth connection.

When a medical worker swipes a patient’s fingerprint it gets sent to the SimPrints application, which translates it into a unique numeric ID. This ID can enrol new patients, or seamlessly match existing patients to their health records, including medical status and next steps in their care.

The researchers say the records can be stored locally on the health worker’s phone or pulled from a cloud database.

The students believe the technology overcomes many of the problems associated with accurately identifying patients in developing countries, where paper-based patient records are often hard to come by or non-existent. "Matching patients digitally to health records is a big challenge when people don’t have national health numbers or fixed addresses, and lack formal IDs such as driver’s licenses," they say on the crowdfunding site they're looking to raise money on.

The students, who include Gates Cambridge Scholars Toby Norman, Daniel Storisteanu and Liz Dzeng, have a target of £15,000 to raise to enable them to hire four engineers in Kenya to finish developing the device. They have already raised over £8,000 through crowdsourcing organisation Indiegogo and the campaign has a week remaining.

The United Nations Refugee Agency is already said to have expressed an interest in the device, while Medic Mobile, a charity that aims to advance healthcare in the developing world with the help of technology, has agreed to test the device in the field.

"What's exciting about this technology is the incredible range of potential applications in healthcare and beyond once you can take biometrics mobile,” said co-founder Toby Norman. “We could use SimPrints to monitor if HIV patients are getting access to their drugs every day, reduce fraud in aid distribution, or improve the security of mobile banking for poor consumers - just to get started."

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