It looks and feels like an iPhone, and with games and other capabilities downloaded, it can be a fun toy, too. But for Dr. Prospero Gogo, a cardiologist at FAHC-UVM, his iPhone 4 has also become a powerful medical tool.
"This is all the instructions you really need. You turn it on and it shows you a little picture of your hands holding the EKG and then you hold it for literally five seconds and then suddenly your ECG shows up," Gogo said.
That's right, an instant electrocardiogram-- ECG or EKG for short-- that measures the electrical activity of your heart through your smartphone. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration for licensed medical professionals just three months ago, it involves a lightweight plastic phone case with two metal plates on the back, plus a free app called AliveECG. It downloads your results to your phone's memory and sends them straight to a HIPPA-approved secure website.
"I do use it practically, for example when I'm in the office and I have patients every 15 to 20 minutes. If I see someone who may have something abnormal about their heart rhythm-- but calling for a full ECG down the hallway, having the patient disrobe and put all the leads on, which can be a 5-10 minute process-- that's already a third of my visit. So, I just pull this out of my pocket, have them hold it for a few seconds and I can see what their heart rhythm is and that really saves me time," Gogo explained.
It measures just one view, from one arm to the other. So, if there is a problem, Gogo then orders the full 12-lead test for a head to toe, front to back and side to side view of electrical activity. In emergency situations, he says the phone case can even diagnose some heart attacks.
"Again, this isn't the answer to everything," Gogo said. "It's one of the useful tools you can use when you look at the patient, feel their pulses, do the regular things for CPR, for exam and assessments."
Gogo says doctors can prescribe the iPhone cases for patients as well, although they're not yet covered by insurance. He says that would allow an instant EKG for your doctor whether you're at home, on the soccer field, or on a beach in the Caribbean.
The FDA-approved phone cases fit the iPhone 4 and 4s only. They cost about $200. Doctors expect approval for the larger iPhone 5 case in the spring.
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