Your Smartphone Is a Portable ECG Machine

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Diagnostic Tools, Heart Health, General Health
Last Reviewed 02/18/2014

Your Smartphone Is a Portable ECG Machine

Recently, I took a look at some of the newest smartphone apps that can assist you in tracking and storing data about your heart so you can share with your health-care provider. The one app that’s getting the most buzz  acts as an ECG machine.

This new ECG machine app, called the AliveCor, costs about $200. It snaps onto the iPhone 4 and 4S and contains two electrode-type areas which can apparently take a 30-second single lead electrocardiogram. Then, it lets you transmit that data to your doctor if you’re having symptoms. 

One cardiologist (whose video I viewed on the Internet) is convinced apps like this one have the potential to transform health care as we know it. He finds utility for the doctor to use it daily as a cost-saving ECG machine application in an office practice setting. There is video of him taking a “quick look” (which we have done before on traditional ECGs) of the patient’s ECG signal while engaged in his physical assessment, saving the patient time and costly routine testing in the office.

I had to chew that one over for a while …

I’m all for technological changes that save lives and reduce the cost of health care. So, if remotely transmitting a live ECG or echocardiogram slice to a medical care provider can fast-track treatment—or reassure someone who is stable—I am open to that. But let's remember that all this technology, including an ECG machine, can have serious downsides.

Possible Problems Using Your Phone as an ECG Machine

  • First off, cordless phones disturb heart rate variability.

  • Holding a cell phone over the chest to check your heart’s rhythm may have the potential to throw your heart out of rhythm, or aggravate an arrhythmia you may be experiencing.

  • While getting a quick look at your electrocardiogram may detect atrial fibrillation, a remote ECG transmission can also miss that arrhythmia if your heart is going in and out of a normal rhythm.

  • A single ECG will not show an evolving heart attack, angina or other cardiac problems: even a 12-lead ECG can fail to reveal signs of a heart attack, so know the signs.

  • Transmitting on your smart phone can actually delay the timely treatment you need.

  • An M.D. using this technology in his or her office is exposing his patients and him or herself to Wi-Fi on an all-day, every-day basis—which is an even larger dose of Wi-Fi than pilots and flight crew are getting on airplanes equipped with Wi-Fi  (another controversial topic). The truth is that Wi-Fi is a big human experiment, and we still lack research about the effects that wireless frequencies may have on our electrical bodies.

When it comes to exposing your heart—which has electrical frequencies of its own—to external manmade frequencies, less is best.   

It’s also my bias there really is no substitute for an in-person physical assessment by a trained M.D. or other health-care provider. There have been plenty of times that I have admitted people to the hospital—even when all the lab work results in front of me were considered “normal”—because my experience as a cardiologist told me there was something there that just couldn’t be ignored. 

So, do these ECG machine apps have some utility? Sure, but like all technology involving radio frequencies (RF) and electromagnetic fields (EMF), I recommend we develop some reasonable guidelines. While the medical establishment will have to figure out how to adapt to this new technology and how it may impact the way that M.D.s practice, just remember to use "Sinatra Smart Smartphone" common sense.  

What about you? Do you want your M.D. using a smartphone as an ECG machine to check your heart?

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