A stethoscope app has been shown in a new study to be able to capture reliable and high-quality recordings of heartbeats. Doctors can remotely monitor patients’ progression in their heart conditions.
The Echoes app is designed to do just that. Users place the phone’s microphone directly on the skin in a quiet environment. An onscreen slider allows them to finetune the microphone’s sensitivity, ensuring that the beating heart is captured.
Since launching last May, it has recorded over 100,000 hearts. These are added to a database in King’s College and the Maastricht University in the Netherlands as they are analysed for sound quality and to spot clinical markers of cardiac events.
Scientists examined over 7,500 recordings as well as data including gender, age, BMI, and phone hardware. The research was published in the European Heart Journal. The team found that the success rate of good recordings decreased with age, while the other metrics did not affect the quality of the recordings.
“This research proves that mobile technologies are a viable way of recording heart sounds and that in the future, cardiac patients and doctors could use at-home recordings to check for existence or progression of heart conditions,” said lead researcher, Professor Pablo Lamata. “As a sign of how things are developing in smartphone diagnostics and heart health, in 2015 we looked at a related technology that performed as well as traditional stethoscopes. However, rather than using the phone’s onboard microphone, the technology relied on an additional recording device that was placed against the patient’s skin and wired into an iPhone’s headphone jack.”
The Echoes app has the potential to bring this function to everyday users. The team says however that more work is needed to explore how the app can work with traditional heart monitoring solutions. They are excited about the possibilities.
“Our study has answered the central question to large-scale applications of using a smartphone microphone as a stethoscope,” said study author Hongxing Luo, from Maastricht University. “The results have shown that non-medical users are able to record heart sounds in sufficiently good quality for further processing of the signals. We may be able to extract further features for diagnosis and monitoring purposes in future clinical studies.”