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Credit card-sized ECG: An Indian innovation

ECG Copyright: <a href=''>radub85 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>In a remarkable feat of Indian innovation, electrocardiograms (ECGs) may now become more readily available to those in rural environments. This has the potential diagnose many people who would otherwise unknowingly suffer from heart conditions, without the need to travel to specialist hospitals.

Scientists at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center — a group of individuals who are more at home researching the application of nuclear energy and radioactive isotopes — have unveiled their recent innovation:, an ECG machine the size of a credit card.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in India. In 2016 it accounted for 28.1 percent of all deaths that occurred in the country. It has overtaken all infectious diseases as well as many other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that have seen a rise in recent years.

Better techniques are vital to ensure that people are diagnosed and treated before conditions such as heart diseases become unmanageable and lead to permanent disability or even fatalities. Yet, in many areas of rural India, facilities may not be in place to assess these conditions due to lapses in healthcare infrastructure.

A host of features may make this device a staple of both rural and urban healthcare facilities in years to come. The device is around ten times smaller and considerably lighter than a standard ECG machine. Its low weight and size makes the “Tele-ECG” an ideal device for doctors or community health workers who  travel from village to village, or those who make regular house visits.

Importantly, the device is linked to mobile operating systems, allowing it to sync up with phones anywhere in the world. This allows the health worker taking the ECG reading to potentially send the information to a doctor, who can make a diagnosis.

Uptake of the device however appears to be slow. More recently reports have indicated competing models have been made, with a similar concept as that made at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. The alternative model, the “Sanket ECG”, developed by husband and wife team Neha and Rahul Rastogi also operates along a similar principle.

Both devices take the standard circuitry of a conventional ECG machine and apply it to a micro circuit board. The Sanket ECG, however, suffers the drawback of being reliant on internet connectivity, and so would be of limited use within rural environments where internet penetration is 16 percent. However, as the Tele-ECG has demonstrated, the operating system of the ECG can be linked with a phone, and so the data could potentially be sent at a later time.

The Tele-ECG device presents a considerable opportunity for diagnosis facilities within areas where healthcare infrastructure is lacking. Importantly, the device costs only Rs 4,000, making it a cost effective means to begin addressing the considerable burden of heart disease within India.

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