Diagnosing heart attacks: There's an app for that

May 17, 2013

An experimental, inexpensive iPhone application transmitted diagnostic heart images faster and more reliably than emailing photo images, according to a research study presented at the American Heart Association's Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions 2013.

The app could help save lives by speeding treatment for the deadliest type of heart attack known as STEMI (ST segment elevation myocardial infarction), in which a clot blocks blood flow to the heart.

A critical step in prompt, effective STEMI treatment is rapid transmission of an electrocardiogram (ECG) image from emergency medical personnel on site with a patient directly to the hospital to be viewed by a doctor. The ECG may show evidence of a heart attack, allowing doctors to prepare for immediate treatment upon the patient's arrival.

Traditionally, ECG images are sent through specialized commercial systems. Some hospitals use cell phones to take photos of ECGs, which require large files to maintain clarity and can be slow and unreliable, particularly in signal-limited environments.

"Simple cellular technology can save lives," said David R. Burt, M.D., the study's lead author and an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville. "This system may make pre-hospital ECG transmission a more inexpensive and reliable option. That can translate to faster treatment and saved lives."

In this study: Researchers designed the app to take a photo of the ECG, center and reduce its size, while maintaining as much clarity as possible.

They tested the app more than 1,500 times with Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon in an urban area. The researchers are currently testing the app in rural areas with limited cell-phone access and in comparison with commercial proprietary systems.

"In many places, it may be feasible to transmit vital ECGs over commercial cell-phone networks, saving money, and allowing areas without commercial ECG transmission systems to still connect pre-hospital emergency medical services with STEMI treatment centers," Burt said.

Each year in the United States, nearly a quarter of a million people experience STEMI. Survival depends upon immediate treatment to restore blood flow. Yet many patients don't make it to the hospital in time.

The American Heart Association recommends surgical treatment within 90 minutes of hospital arrival, or clot-busting medication within 30 minutes. The association initiated a national system of treatment and referral centers known as Mission: Lifeline® to help ensure standard of care.
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Co-authors are Richard Zhang; Steven Fowler; Jonni Seal; and Stephen D. Patek, Ph.D.

The University of Virginia Wireless Internet Center for Advanced Technology funded the study. Additional disclosures are on the abstract.

Follow news from the Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions 2013 via Twitter: @HeartNews; #QCOR13.

Statements and conclusions of study authors presented at American Heart Association scientific meetings are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the association's policy or position. The association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. The association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific association programs and events. The association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations are available at http://www.heart.org/corporatefunding.

American Heart Association

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