iPhone app transmits ECG images faster, more reliably than email

A study has found an experimental, inexpensive iPhone app transmitted electrocardiogram images (ECGs) faster and more reliably than traditional emailed photo transmission. According to an announcement, 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, states the announcement. 

In order to quickly and effectively treat STEMI patients in transit to a hospital, doctors require rapid transmission of an ECG image, showing evidence of a heart attack and allowing them to properly prepare for immediate treatment upon the patient's arrival. Typically, ECG images are sent through specialized commercial systems. Moreover, 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. However, researchers designed the app to take a photo of the ECG, center and reduce its size, while maintaining as much clarity as possible.

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

Results of the study, funded by the University of Virginia Wireless Internet Center for Advanced Technology, were presented at the American Heart Association's 2013 Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions, held May 15-17 in Baltimore. In the study, iPhone images were transmitted in four to six seconds, compared to 38 to 114 seconds for actual-size and 17-48 seconds to send a large-size e-mail image. In addition, the app's failure rate at 120 seconds was less than 0.5 percent, compared to a three percent to 71 percent e-mail failure rate.

The app was tested more than 1,500 times with Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon in an urban area, according to the announcement. Currently, researchers are 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 also said.

In Washington, D.C., ambulances have been equipped with technology that enables rapid, wireless transmissions of ECGs to both an on-call physician's wireless device and tertiary care hospitals to help deliver fast, accurate information in order to streamline in-transit patient care. The initiative is the result of a partnership between the George Washington University Heart and Vascular Institute, The Wireless Foundation, and the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services. The Wireless Foundation, a non-profit organization established by the membership of CTIA, provided a grant to fund the initiative.

To learn more:
- read the announcement