News | 14 April 2020

Remote care using a smartphone to monitor heart rhythm

mHealth supports patients with heart arrhythmia during the coronavirus outbreak

Patients with heart arrhythmia can be monitored remotely using an app and their own smartphone. Cardiologists at Maastricht UMC+ use this method to track the heart rhythm of patients and to advise them remotely. Remote monitoring means that patients can avoid coming to hospital for an ECG during the coronavirus outbreak and still receive care.

iStockiStockThe coronavirus pandemic has led the hospital to cut back significantly on outpatient appointments. There are two reasons for this. The first is to prevent further infection by reducing contact between hospital staff and patients. The second is to ensure that there are enough medical staff available to care for COVID-19 patients. To continue providing the best possible care for other patients, doctors are looking into suitable alternatives.

Maastricht's cardiology department recently started using mHealth (mobile Health) with patients experiencing atrial fibrillation (the most common heart arrhythmia). Normally, these patients come to hospital for a check-up and the cardiologist advises them based on an electrocardiogram (ECG). Now that the risk of infection has complicated matters, patients are being asked to use a special app to monitor their heart rhythm for a week. The app uses the smartphone's camera lens and sensor. This is a validated method for monitoring heart rhythm. When patients with complaints monitor their heart rhythm three times a day for a week, their physicians have several reliable readings that they can analyse to understand what is happening in the heart.

Continuing to provide care
After taking readings for a full week, the patient has a telephone consultation with a cardiologist or nurse. "Based on the data and what comes up during the consultation, we can, for example, advise patients to increase or decrease their medication," says cardiologist Dominik Linz of Maastricht UMC+. "That way, we can continue to provide care safely without patients having to come to hospital." While the app itself is not new, it is being used in a new way, says Linz. "Patients are prescribed use of the app, so to speak. It's a different way of offering care, but it's an effective one. I wouldn't rule out using this method after the coronavirus crisis ends." The Maastricht team has now "seen" more than a hundred patients remotely in only two weeks' time.

With the Maastricht cardiology department as lead partner, the new method will be introduced at several cardiology clinics in Europe under the project name TeleCheck-AF.