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iPhone App Helps Diagnose Heart Attacks

System may be faster and more reliable than e-mailed photo images (May 17)

An experimental iPhone application can transmit diagnostic heart images faster and more reliably than emailing photo images, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions 2013.

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

A critical step in prompt, effective STEMI treatment is rapid transmission of an electrocardiogram (ECG) image from on-site emergency medical personnel directly to the hospital to be viewed by a physician. 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 lead author David R. Burt, MD. “This system may make pre-hospital ECG transmission a more inexpensive and reliable option. That can translate to faster treatment and saved lives.”

In the new study:

  • iPhone images were transmitted in 4 to 6 seconds, compared with 38 to 114 seconds to send an actual-size e-mail image and 17 to 48 seconds to send a large-size image.
  • The app’s failure rate at 120 seconds was less than 0.5%, compared with a 3% to 71% e-mail failure rate.

Researchers tested the app more than 1,500 times with Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon in an urban area. The app is currently undergoing additional testing 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.

The AHA recommends surgical treatment within 90 minutes of hospital arrival, or anticoagulant medication within 30 minutes.

Source: AHA; May 17, 2013.

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