SINGAPORE - Heart failure patient Tan Hui Keng, 71, needs to go to a hospital emergency ward whenever she starts getting breathless. This happens around two times a year.
Soon, a home-use device may be able to tell patients like Madam Tan very early whether their breathlessness is being brought on by potential heart failure or if some other medical condition is at play.
This device checks for fluid accumulation in the lungs, which causes breathlessness and is one of the early symptoms of heart failure. It was developed by a team from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), which showcased the prototype on Thursday (Nov 29).
All that patients have to do is to place a small sensor on their chest or back. This picks up sounds from their lungs and sends the sound signals through a mobile app to a server in the cloud. The server has an artificial intelligence algorithm that determines if the patient's lungs are clear or whether fluid is accumulating inside them.
The entire process takes a mere 10 seconds, said Associate Professor Ser Wee from NTU's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
Importantly, the device can help to cut down on hospital admissions, said Associate Professor David Foo, who is the head of cardiology at TTSH.
The current methods to detect fluid accumulation in the lungs either involve doctors using a stethoscope to listen to the patient's breathing - which can be subjective - or chest X-rays or CT scans, which are costly and time-consuming, he added.
Prof Foo estimates that the device stands to benefit between 30 per cent to 40 per cent of the 5,000-odd patients admitted to hospitals here for heart failure every year.
Ten years in the making, the device has been shown to have a more than 92 per cent accuracy rate in identifying patients who have fluid accumulation in their lungs, based on a study of 86 TTSH patients from 2012 to 2015.
This is comparable to existing gold standard diagnosis methods like X-rays and CT scans.
Prof Ser said that the next step is to conduct a larger-scale study on around 300 TTSH patients, starting next month or early next year.
The team has filed a patent for the device. It has also been approached by a major pharmaceutical company as well as multinational and local healthcare companies for possible collaborations.
Prof Ser said that the device could cost patients between $100 and $200.
Another device that also monitors fluid accumulation in the lungs, but which uses resistance to electrical current, is being tested by Israel-based company RS Medical Monitoring.
Lungs which contain a build-up of fluid are less resistant to electrical current than lungs which are healthy.
But Prof Ser said that this method is less exact than the team's algorithm, because the resistance to electrical current can also depend on other factors like blood density and concentration, as well as tissue.