May 17th, 2013

Instagram for Heart Attacks: iPhone App Speeds ECG Transmission to Hospital

In the crucial early stages of a possible myocardial infarction (MI), EMTs on the scene now rely on slow and unreliable proprietary technology to transmit vital ECG data to physicians at a hospital for evaluation. But a new iPhone app using standard cell phone networks may help speed the process and, ultimately, cut delays in treatment for MI patients.

In a presentation earlier today at the American Heart Association’s Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions 2013 meeting in Baltimore, faculty and students at the University of Virginia discussed an iPhone app they designed to overcome some of the limitations of the current system. The iPhone app takes a photo of the ECG, reduces its size, and transmits the image over a standard cell phone network to a secure server. The image can then be viewed at the receiving hospital by physicians qualified to read an ECG.

The researchers tested the app more than 1,500 times over different cell phone networks. The app was consistently faster than the traditional method, transmitting images in 4-6 seconds, compared to 38-114 seconds for an actual-size email image and 17-48 seconds for a large email image. “The app was significantly faster, exhibited substantially less standard deviation, and had less than a 0.5% failure rate at 120 seconds, compared to failure rates of 3%, 71.2%, and 15.5% for full-sized photos on the three networks,” the authors reported. They are now testing the app in rural areas with limited cell-phone access.

“Simple cellular technology can save lives,” said David R. Burt, lead author of the study, in a press release from the AHA. “This system may make pre-hospital ECG transmission a more inexpensive and reliable option. That can translate to faster treatment and saved lives.”


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