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An iPhone app has been modified to read the blood flow in the arteries of the wrist, which resulted in a 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, and soon iPhone users will be able to keep better track of their heart health just by using their phones.

Smartphones have made dramatic bold impacts on society and as they become more advanced, they are 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.

In a randomized trial at the University Ottawa Heart Institute, based in Ontario, Canada, researchers compared the Instant Heart Rate app on the iPhone 4S with the traditional medical test. The iPhone app was better than the Allen test which is the benchmark physical test for blood flow in two arteries of the wrist. The app had a 94% diagnostic accuracy compared to the traditional method’s 84%. The randomized trial was done to assess the blood flow in wrist arteries of patients about to undergo coronary angiography. The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

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 there is 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 smartphone app is that the app has better diagnostic accuracy.

Development Hurdles

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 which 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 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.

Future Application

He 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.”

The app is a bold innovation that has the potential to be used as an actual tool or method for cardiovascular care.

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.

And 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.