Heart research poised to ‘turn healthcare on its head’

Professor Saurabh Kumar.

The diagnosis of serious heart conditions could soon be revolutionised thanks to a study underway at Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD).

Associate Professor Saurabh Kumar is leading a study into the use of convenient, wearable heart-monitoring technology – such as an Apple Watch – to diagnose heart rhythm disorders that can lead to serious complications, including stroke and cardiac arrest.

The study not only received an $185,000 National Heart Foundation Vanguard grant, but also the additional honour of the $10,000 Ross Honen Award for the most innovative grant application.

Saurabh, who is an electrophysiologist or “electrician of the heart”, believes the findings could create a “paradigm shift” that empowers patients and delivers significant savings to the health system.

“Heart rhythms disorders or arrhythmia are now the most common heart-related hospital admission, but they can be quite difficult to diagnose,” Saurabh said.

Congratulations on your award Professor!

“Our best diagnostic tools, including an ECG or a holter monitor, only get a result about 30 per cent of the time. The problem is the patient’s rhythm has often returned to normal by the time they are tested, and it might be weeks or months before they have another episode.

“For some patients this can mean 10 or 15 hospital visits before they even get a diagnosis. Anything we can do to speed up that first step will have a great impact on their health outcomes.”

Saurabh’s hope is patients could monitor their own episodes of arrhythmia with discreet technology they always have on them, rather than needing to be in hospital or fitted with a bulky holter monitor, allowing for much faster diagnosis.

His earlier studies have been funded by organisations including the Westmead Research and Education Network and the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand.

The current study involves a robust assessment of the accuracy and reliability of different products against the proven medical diagnostic tools, as well as a randomised trial between devices to determine whether these products or a take-home holter monitor provide an earlier diagnosis.

“With the technology and artificial intelligence available now, we are on the cusp of major change. The findings of this study could turn the concept of healthcare on its head,” Saurabh said.

“If these devices prove to be accurate and reliable then we can provide rapid diagnosis, empower patients and create better outcomes, while also delivering substantial savings to the health system.”

Saurabh and the research team aim to report on the results of the current study by the end of the year, and are hoping to expend into further testing with high-risk groups including people with diabetes, lung disease and blood clotting disorders.