New mobile app helps detect irregular heartbeats

The result is shown on the screen. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
The result is shown on the screen. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
A demonstrator placing his index finger over the phone's camera lens (above). The result is shown on the screen (below).
A demonstrator placing his index finger over the phone's camera lens (above). The result is shown on the screen (below).PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

THOSE who are worried about erratic heartbeats but wish to avoid medical tests can now find the answer in a new mobile app that can detect the common disorder - within a minute.

Called AFDetect, the app uses the phone's in-built camera and flash light to detect one's pulse, which is analysed for the problem called atrial fibrillation.

Those who are worried about erratic heartbeats but wish to avoid medical tests can now find the answer in a new mobile app that can detect the common disorder - within a minute.

The creator of the app, local medical device company HealthSTATS International, claims the app is a world's first and has patented the software behind it.

Adults over the age of 40 have a one in four chance of developing atrial fibrillation in their lifetime. Typically, hospitals and clinics use an electrocardiogram (ECG) to detect the disorder.

The process, which involves placing electrodes on a person's chest, can be cumbersome and time-consuming for some, said HealthSTATS' chief executive Ting Choon Meng.

While there are drugs that can treat the condition, it is not easily detectable because it happens intermittently, Dr Ting noted. "Even if the person goes to the doctor, his heart palpitations may have stopped by then."

The app, which is co-developed with and tested at University College London, is available on GooglePlay for Android users at $1.98. The iPhone version is expected to be launched in January.

Users place their index finger over the camera lens for about 40 seconds. The beam from the phone's flash light illuminates the pulsating capillary tissue beneath the surface of the finger. Each time blood is sent to the fingertip, minute colour changes occur in the blood vessels, which are picked up by the camera lens. The information can be saved and provided to a doctor.

The technology was tested on two batches of 50 patients, including people known to have atrial fibrillation - 98 per cent of these sufferers were correctly identified.

HealthSTATS hopes to introduce the app to clinics here, as well as to people who engage in strenuous sports.

Dr Ng Siau Peng, a general practitioner, said many cases of atrial fibrillation are detected by chance as patients had actually showed up for a different health problem.

Said Dr Ng, who runs a clinic in Ubi: "Most patients would not know that they have this problem, and doctors may not be quick enough to pick it up due to limited consultation time."

chpoon@sph.com.sg