Finnish university develops hardware-free smartphone a-fib detector

By Dave Muoio
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A smartphone app developed the University of Turku, Finland, detected Turku University Hospital patients’ atrial fibrillation with 96 percent accuracy, without the need for additional phone attachments, according to a study recently published in the journal Circulation.

“If everyone can measure with an ordinary smart phone whether they have atrial fibrillation, we have the possibility to direct patients straight to the doctor and further testing without any delay,” Dr. Juhani Airaksinen, chief physician, professor of cardiology, and the paper’s senior author, said in a statement. “Therefore, the potential for economic savings is significant.”

Airaksinen and colleagues enrolled 150 patients with atrial fibrillation and 150 age- and sex-matched patients with regular heart rhythm for their investigation. The team recorded a three-minute cardiography recording using a Sony Xperia smartphone placed on the patient’s sternum, while simultaneously collecting another five-lead ECG for comparison. The smartphone’s recordings were fed into an algorithm developed by the team.

The researcher’s algorithm correctly identified atrial fibrillation in 143 of the 150 cases (sensitivity, 95.3 percent), and appropriately classified sinus rhythm in 144 of the 150 controls (specificity, 96 percent). Of note, the researchers wrote that reducing the duration of the analyzed recording to just one minute did not affect the algorithm’s sensitivity or specificity, and that the rhythm classifications of the algorithm were in near-perfect agreement with those of the ECG.

With the ubiquity of smartphones among the elderly and in third-world countries, the researchers wrote that there is a growing demand for self-operated rhythm screening tools such as their algorithm or AliveCor’s single-lead electrocardiographic recorder. While the latter’s capacity for physician interpretation of collected tracings is a clear advantage, an alternative that requires no additional hardware but remains easy to use could also find a place in preventive cardiovascular care.

“In the future, everyone who owns a smart phone can detect atrial fibrillation,” Tero Koivisto, project manager at the university’s Department of Future Technologies, said in a statement. “We have applied patent protection for the new methods already at the early stages of the study, and in the course of this project we have gathered a significant patent portfolio.”