Portable health monitor helps patients head off cardiac issues

The Reka medical device in cardiologist Lim Toon Wei's hands allows patients to be monitored for longer periods.
The Reka medical device in cardiologist Lim Toon Wei's hands allows patients to be monitored for longer periods.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Portable health monitor helps patients head off cardiac issues

Feel your heart beating faster or even skipping a beat?

A device the size of a hockey puck at the National University Heart Centre, Singapore (NUHCS) can help doctors determine more easily if that abnormal heart rhythm is an issue or not.

Introduced at the centre in October, the Reka health monitor is more comfortable for patients to wear too.

Previously, a patient had to wear a pager-sized device with five leads, or adhesive electrodes, stuck onto the chest and abdomen for 24-48 hours to measure the rhythms.

From the pattern of the electrical recordings, known as an electrocardiogram (ECG), doctors can tell if the abnormalities are benign or an early warning of stroke or heart failure.

"In Singapore's hot and sticky weather, many patients say wearing leads is uncomfortable," said Dr Lim Toon Wei, a cardiologist at NUHCS.

"Some even take them off before the time is up as they just cannot stand it."

More crucially, abnormal heart rhythms can occur outside the specified 24 to 48 hours. They can occur once every few months or once every few days, and they can last for seconds, minutes or hours.

"If the abnormality occurs outside the 48-hour window, doctors don't pick it up, and we cannot diagnose the problem, even though there are signs of trouble," said Dr Lim.

Now, with the Reka device, patients no longer need to wear leads. They just put their thumbs on two contact points on the device every time they feel an abnormal rhythm, and ECG readings are collected.

Patients can borrow the device from NUHCS for two weeks or longer, depending on their medical condition and on overall demand. The service costs about $90 for a subsidised patient and about $240 for a private one.

The centre carried out a pilot trial of the device with about 100 patients last year.

Said Dr Lim: "Having a Reka device on hand for two weeks increases the window of opportunity for capturing abnormal heart rhythms. This gives doctors more data to work with."

NUHCS has five such devices at its facility, which it hopes will benefit at least 120 patients a year. It is considering getting more as patient feedback has been positive.

"We are booked right up to May," said Dr Lim.

Patients such as student Soh Kaiwen, 20, like the convenience of the new monitor.

"I can reach for it when I need it - I don't need to wear it all the time," he said.

In Singapore, about 5 per cent of those aged above 55 suffer from atrial fibrillation, the most common form of heart rhythm disorder.

Dr Lim said: "An abnormal heart rhythm can be easily overlooked, but don't ignore it as it can be a sign of a stroke or heart failure down the road."

kashc@sph.com.sg