Technology enables heart monitoring via mobile phone

A new mobile phone technology that monitors a user’s heart, beat by beat, could potentially allow doctors to keep an eye on patients with cardiac abnormalities remotely.

The heart monitoring system, developed by Belgian research institutions Imec and Holst Centre with TASS software professionals, was recently demonstrated for Android mobile phones at the Wireless Health Conference in San Diego, California, from 5-7 October.

While now in prototype form, the technology looks like a necklace of wires attached to a patch that would be worn on the user’s chest. The patch contains a sensor and two low-power microchips for amplifying the electrocardiogram signals from the user’s beating heart and filtering them. A microprocessor from Texas Instruments processes the data and a low-power radio wirelessly transmits the information to a user’s mobile phone. From there the data can be transferred anywhere, including a doctor’s office.

Julien Penders, programme manager of Body Area Network at Imec/Holst Centre, said that unlike current home health monitoring products that provide information on just the average heart rate, the Imec/Holst Centre device provides beat-to-beat analysis.

Another feature distinguishing it from other devices on the market, he added, is its lower power consumption providing seven days of constant use between charges.

Penders said this sort of autonomy is impossible with most mobile health monitoring devices because of their reliance on Bluetooth.

‘Bluetooth consumes a lot of energy and that means the lifetime of your sensors will drop from seven days to one day,’ he added. ‘We want to be low power and we don’t want to ask people to charge their systems everyday. We also don’t want to have a system that weighs 100g because you have 80g of battery.’

Therefore the Imec/Holst Centre team decided on the use of a low-power radio and developed an interface with mobile phones through the Secure Digital Input Output (SDIO) port, which is normally used for memory cards.

While the prototype system currently incorporates an off-the-shelf radio, Imec is currently developing its own radio that will reputedly be 10 times more efficient. The team is also designing the system so that the lead wires, currently worn around the neck, can be packaged into the chest patch. 

With the ageing population combined with increasing need for care and the rising costs, Penders believes his team’s mobile health monitoring system has much commercial potential.

The team is currently awaiting results from pilot studies monitoring patients with epilepsy and cardiac arrhythmia. Penders said the technology is even being evaluated for its ability to improve the training performance of athletes.