Heart monitoring revolution at Westmead Hospital: Patient-operated devices challenge traditional monitoring for abnormal heart rhythms

Sam Turnbull

A ground-breaking study by clinicians and researchers at Westmead Hospital and the University of Sydney has demonstrated that commercially available, patient-operated heart rhythm recording devices, known as single-lead ECGs, are comparable to multiday Holter monitoring in documenting and identifying various cardiac arrhythmias.

The study, funded by Western Sydney Local Health District’s (WSLHD), Research and Education Network (REN) and The Heart Foundation, has been published in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiology, currently the highest-ranking cardiac research journal in the world.

“This study is potentially game changing for the field of cardiology,” said Sam Turnbull, cardiac physiologist and researcher, who ran the study alongside research team leader, Associate Professor Saurabh Kumar, cardiologist and electrophysiologist at Westmead Hospital and the University of Sydney’s Westmead Applied Research Centre, in the Westmead Health Precinct,

“We have demonstrated that these patient-operated devices are not only capable of being used to identify a broader spectrum of arrhythmias, but that they also yield comparable outcomes to traditional Holter monitoring methods.

“These findings have the potential to revolutionize how we investigate arrhythmias and simultaneously improve patient experiences.”

Research team leader Associate Professor Saurabh Kumar said the main benefit to patients is accessibility.

“Patients can purchase these devices and keep them long term, with ready availability to record their heart rhythm if they are having symptoms, or for general monitoring purposes.

Rhythm recordings can then be rapidly forwarded to the patient’s cardiologist or GP for medical review.”

Anyone can access these devices now, however, it is important for patients with arrhythmias or suspected arrhythmias to consult with their doctor the best strategy for investigation or monitoring.

Arrhythmias are abnormal heart rhythms that can cause unpleasant symptoms and may be linked to stroke, heart failure, or even death.

Currently, Holter monitoring, which involves continuous heart rhythm recording over an extended period, is the most commonly used method for diagnosing these conditions.

However, arrhythmias often come and go, making diagnoses challenging and requiring repeated testing or prolonged monitoring.

In a three-part study, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of a heart rhythm recording device called AliveCor KardiaMobile, which connects to a smartphone and is available for purchase by anyone.

The study revealed that this type of device not only accurately identified a variety of arrhythmias but also yielded similar outcomes to Holter monitoring.

Furthermore, patients reported higher satisfaction and a greater sense of empowerment with these patient-operated devices.

“These findings have significant implications for both patients and cardiologists,” noted Sam.

“Patients and healthcare providers can now consider using not only AliveCor but other commercially available, patient-operated single-lead ECGs for arrhythmia investigations.

This has the potential to reduce the burden on healthcare facilities and enhance patient experiences.”

The study also demonstrated that heart rhythm experts could accurately interpret a wide range of benign and malignant arrhythmias recorded on these devices, providing evidence for their utility in diagnosing various heart rhythm abnormalities.

Moving forward, the study paves the way for a transformative shift in clinical cardiology services, embracing modern technology, infrastructure, and patient involvement.

Additionally, these commercially available and consumer-operated devices empower individuals to self-monitor their heart health and potentially reduce the need for repeated appointments and investigations.

“This research showcases Australia’s leadership in health research and innovation,” said Sam.

As an Australian centre for excellence, Westmead Hospital serves a diverse western Sydney community, and the findings of this study can help alleviate the burden on our healthcare system by increasing accessibility to diagnostic investigations and improving communication between healthcare providers and patients.”

Sam Turnbull

The research team is currently planning a second randomized clinical trial to further investigate the outcomes of a patient-operated and controlled heart rhythm monitoring model, integrated with expedited clinical review.

The aim is to assess the utility, feasibility, and patient experience of this model compared to traditional practices.

With this study, the field of cardiology takes a significant step towards a more patient-centred and technology-driven approach, offering new possibilities for diagnosing and managing arrhythmias effectively.