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An iPhone heart rate monitor app has been modified to read the blood flow in the arteries of the wrist—a fact which showed that it yields better diagnostic accuracy than the traditional test. This bold idea is still in the preliminary stages. And exhaustive tests are needed before the app can be accepted as a medical device. The initial results are very promising though. Perhaps soon iPhone users will be able to keep better track of their heart health just by using their phones!

The Bold Impact of Smartphones

Smartphones have made dramatic bold impacts on society and as they become more advanced. In fact, they are already filled with all sorts of sensors and cameras, touchscreen, microphone and speakers. They can be loaded with a wide array of apps to make use of these sensors as tools to monitor everything from the weather to how many steps you take to your overall health. Notably, that is such the case with the iPhone heart rate monitor app.

In a randomized trial at the University Ottawa Heart Institute—based in Ontario, Canada—researchers compared the iPhone heart rate monitor app, called the Instant Heart Rate app, on the iPhone 4S with the traditional medical test. The iPhone app proved to be better than the Allen test, which is the benchmark physical test for blood flow in two arteries of the wrist.

The Instant Heart Rate app had a 94 percent diagnostic accuracy compared to the traditional method’s 84 percent. The randomized trial was done to assess the blood flow in the wrist arteries of patients about to undergo coronary angiography. The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

In Detail: The Allen Test

The Allen test is a physical test where the two arteries are pressed while the hand is clenched into a fist, stopping the blood supply to the arm. The hand is then opened and then the pressure on one of the arteries is released. The test checks if the single artery is able to provide adequate blood supply going to the hand. The test is repeated while pressing on the other artery. The length of time for the hand to return to its normal color is an indication of blood flow. The two arteries supply blood to the hand, and usually, even one artery alone is enough to supply the blood to the hand. If only one artery is providing adequate supply to the hand, the doctor may not continue with the procedure on the artery as the remaining artery may not provide enough blood supply.

The Allen test is fairly simple and does not require any special equipment. The doctor can easily see if one of the arteries cannot provide the blood flow for the whole hand. What is significant about the comparison between the Allen test and using the iPhone heart rate monitor app is that the app has better diagnostic accuracy.

a photo showing two images placed side by side: one has the image of a finger pointing the top of an iPhone and another of two smartphone screens showing the iPhone heart rate monitor app pages
Perhaps soon iPhone users will be able to keep better track of their heart health just by using their phones!

Development Hurdles of the iPhone Heart Rate Monitor App

The Instant Heart Rate app has yet to be recognized as a standard medical test. It still needs to go through rigorous testing to determine if it meets the standards for medical equipment. However, the study shows that apps have the capability of providing a level of diagnostic capability and accuracy that can be used by doctors and other medical professionals.

From the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Dr. Benjamin Hibbert says that due to the “widespread availability of smartphones, they are being used increasingly as point-of-care diagnostics in clinical settings with minimal or no cost.” Granted that the Allen test can be done without any use of equipment, the study, in general, showed that mentioned possibility of using smartphones in other point-of-care or bedside exam.

Dr. Hibbert adds that the smartphone’s “built-in cameras with dedicated software or photodiode sensors using infrared light-emitting diodes have the potential to render smartphones into functional plethysmographs”. Plethysmographs are medical instruments which can measure changes in volume of an organ. He also stressed that the app “is not certified at present for use in health care by any regulatory body, our study highlights the potential for smartphone-based diagnostics to aid in decision-making at the patient’s bedside”.

In the Future of Digital Healthcare

The iPhone heart rate monitor app is a bold innovation that has the potential to be used as an actual tool or method for cardiovascular care. On another note, even earlier, scientists from Pasadena have created an app that can deliver what used to require a 45-minute scan from an ultrasound machine in just a few minutes. The study was published in the July 2017 issue of the Journal of Critical Care Medicine. According to reports, the invention is already close to being rolled out commercially.

Although these digital healthcare options are still in the testing and trial phases, they are promising a future where people will be able to manage their health anytime and anywhere.

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