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Thousands of patients to benefit from increased diagnosis of irregular heart rhythms

Innovative technology is being rolled out across the country to prevent strokes, in a national campaign launched on 15 February.

Experts estimate that more than 420,000 people across England have undiagnosed irregular heart rhythm, which can cause a stroke if not detected and treated appropriately, usually through blood-thinning medication to prevent clots that lead to stroke.

More than 6,000 devices including mobile electrocardiogram (ECG) units are being distributed to GP practices, pharmacies and NHS community clinics across England. This equipment can detect irregular heart rhythm quickly and easily, enabling NHS staff to refer any patients with irregular heart rhythms for follow up as they could be at risk of severe stroke.

The devices are being rolled out by the 15 Academic Health Science Networks in the first six months of this year as part of an NHS England-funded project.

The range of technology includes a smartphone-linked device that works via an app and a new blood pressure cuff that also detects heart rhythms. Small and easy-to-use, NHS staff can also take the devices on home visits and allow more staff in more settings to quickly and easily conduct pulse checks.

pulse monitorThe mobile devices provide a more sensitive and specific pulse check than a manual check and this reduces the need for costly ECGs to confirm diagnosis. As a result, the project aims to identify 130,000 new cases of irregular heart rhythm (known as atrial fibrillation) over two years, which could prevent at least 3,650 strokes and save 900 lives and £81 million annually in associated costs.

Around 200 devices are being distributed In the Oxford AHSN region. They could prevent 154 strokes and save 39 lives and £3.46 million. Their impact in GP practices, pharmacies and other places will be evaluated.

Oxford AHSN Chief Executive Professor Gary Ford CBE is a stroke physician at Oxford University Hospitals and national lead on the AHSN AF project. He said: “More than 420,000 people throughout England are unaware they have irregular heart rhythms and of the dangers that this can pose to their health.

“We have highly effective treatments that can prevent these strokes, but early detection is key. Using cost-effective technology, the NHS will now be able to identify people with irregular heart rhythms quickly and easily. This will save lives.

“As the NHS approaches its 70th birthday this year, this is also a great reminder of the way that healthcare is continually evolving and innovating. Taking advantage of digital health solutions will be even more important for the next 70 years. Today’s new devices are just one example of the way that low-cost tech has the potential to make a huge difference.”

Professor Stephen Powis, Medical Director of NHS England, said: “Cardiovascular disease kills more people in this country than anything else, but there are steps we can all take to prevent it. These innovations have enormous potential to prevent thousands of strokes each year, which is why NHS England has committed to funding the rollout of 6,000 mobile ECG devices to help identify cases of atrial fibrillation so behaviours can be changed and treatment started before strokes occur.”

One million people in the UK are known to be affected by AF and an additional 422,600 people are undiagnosed. As the most common type of irregular heart rhythm, it is responsible for approximately 20% of all strokes. Survivors must live with the disabling consequences and treating the condition costs the NHS over £2.2 billion each year.

The devices being rolled out across the country are:

  • AliveCor Kardia Mobile – a device linked to a smartphone that produces a medical-grade ECG in 30-seconds to detect atrial fibrillation (AF). Allows user to email the last single ECG recording to self or a doctor.
  • RhythmPad is two handprints that patients put their hands on that provides instantaneous non-invasive screening and analysis of patients Cardiac Rhythm within 30 seconds.
  • MyDiagnostick is as easy as holding a steering wheel and within 60 seconds records a high-quality ECG and analyses it. MyDiagnostick uses an advanced algorithm so it can signal for AF by using a red or green led light.
  • imPulse detects an ECG signal by the placement of the thumbs on the sensors embedded in the unit. This allows for a routine, quick, accurate recording of a lead one ECG signal without the need for conductive gel or skin preparation. The signal is transmitted using Bluetooth to a Smart-phone or Table computer and displays the ECG trace combined with a heart rate readout.
  • WatchBP is a range of devices to check blood pressure using a cuff and a small handheld device to deliver accurate readings.