With heart attacks being reported as the reason for the death of one Indian every 33 seconds, cardiac health has emerged as a chief concern in the country. One of the main challenges is making quality cardiac solutions available in rural areas. A new, portable ECG device, which runs on mobile technology, hopes to change things for the better.
A Tele-ECG machine prototype developed by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) is being adopted by firms to offer healthcare solutions for even remote areas.
ECG reports at a click
Scientists at BARC came into the spotlight recently for having developed the Handheld 12-Channel Tele-ECG Instrument that promises cardiac care at just a click. The prototype is developed to record all the 12-leads of ECG simultaneously and displays the same on mobile screens. The generated report can be immediately shared with experts via mobile phones, thus saving on the time it takes to transport patients from their location to the nearest available cardiac units.
According to a report by BARC, “The report is generated in form of an image that can be sent to the expert’s mobile through Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) or any other file sharing apps. The device is ideally suited for rural health care. In city hospitals, the machine can be operated through Laptop/Desktop and report can be shared on Local Area Network (LAN). ECG report in standard graphical format (as shown above) can be taken on a blank A4 size paper.”
Tele-ECG was introduced over three decades ago, and is largely executed through telephone lines. The drawback of this application is that it can only be done between fixed locations and with regular handsets. With advancement in wireless technology, it has become increasingly possible to enhance the scope of wireless telemedicine and harness mobile cellular network to connect rural communities with health experts.
ECG reports are commonly requested by doctors to determine their patients’ health conditions, especially the elderly. Paper-based reports are often at the risk of being lost or fade in the course of time. Abhinav, founder of Cardea Labs, which is one of the licensees of this mobile technology, says, “Having an affordable 12 lead ECG system on the smart phone will not only boost the digital healthcare space, but this paper-less system will save a huge amount of time, helping the patient and the doctor immensely.”
Having successfully developed the low-cost prototype, BARC has begun issuing licenses to select R&D organisations and automation companies to manufacture and market the product. These firms are now modifying and readying the prototype for commercial launch.
Cardea Labs will be launching a modified, upgraded version of device under the name Accurate Tele-ECG On Mobile (ATOM).
ATOM, developed by Cardea Labs
According to Abhinav, ATOM is currently undergoing clinical studies at AIIMS, New Delhi, and the device likely to be ready for a market launch towards the end of the second trimester of this year, once it receives all the necessary certifications and validations.
“The device is a good prototype, but it isn’t ready for the market yet. As an R&D organisation, we are working on improving the system,” he says. “We are making the device compatible for all smartphones. The device [developed by BARC] runs on Bluetooth 2.0, but we are converting it to Bluetooth 4.0. It will make a huge difference in battery life, especially for such a portable device, meant for use in rural areas.”
Additionally, ATOM also boasts a modified, sleeker design. Abhinav emphasizes the need for thorough clinical and field trials for the product, keeping in mind India’s diverse demographics and climatic conditions.
Star Automations, a Puducherry-based company and another prominent licensee of the prototype, hopes to make the device accessible in rural areas.
The Star Automation team at IESS
According to A. Geetha, senior manager at Star Automations, the organisation has received positive feedback during demonstrations of the device at the International Engineering Sourcing Show (IESS) earlier this month.
She says: “Many NGO are approaching us through CSR Programme for procuring this instrument for rural areas. Hence we are planning to collaborate with them in their respective regions and promote [the device]. Also, many social organisations, individuals and doctors who serve rural areas also approached us for this instrument. We will associate with them for further manufacturing process.”
Star Automations aims to start manufacturing the device from April this year. Geetha informs that the organisation plans to start by manufacturing 100 instruments, followed by large-scale production.
While initial reports suggested that the device would cost around ₹4,000, the teams at both Cardea Labs and Star Automations have deemed it financially unfeasible. Geetha says, “The cost of the machine will be approximately ₹20,000, which is much lesser than the ECG machines in the hospitals.” Conventional ECG machines can cost anything between ₹40,000 to ₹2 lakh, and this innovation promises a high-functioning device at affordable rates.
Abhinav adds that a lot of factors determine the price, including the number of units, assembly line and labour cost, safety certifications, boxing, packaging, marketing and after-sales support.
“Indeed, one needs to place affordability as the highest parameter especially for a developing nation like India,” he says. “In US, the cost of healthcare is borne by insurance companies whereas in India, such costs are borne by individuals. This is the major reason why people avoid getting routine tests and try to avoid paying visits to the hospital till it is an absolute necessity. Keeping all these factors in mind, ATOM will be among the most affordable yet accurate pieces of technology so that it can reach out to every home.”
The handheld device offers a simpler, more affordable means to healthcare, especially for remote parts of India where 24×7 facilities and access to superior healthcare continues to be a challenge. Though it may take time to perfect the system and test its effectiveness, the development of the Tele-ECG device certainly marks a new achievement for healthcare technology in India.
For more information on the devices, contact Abhinav and Geetha here.