A 15-centimeter wireless sensor, recently approved by the FDA, holds the promise of reducing hospitalizations by allowing automated early detection of heart failure. The noninvasive device, which costs a few hundred dollars and adheres to a patient’s chest, monitors indicators of heart health–including heart and respiration rates, levels of patient activity, and even the accumulation of body fluid–as patients go about their daily lives.
Part of a technology platform now being marketed by Corventis, a startup in San Jose, CA, the waterproof sensor beams data to a special cell-phone-like gadget in the patient’s pocket or home. From there, the data is wirelessly transmitted to the company’s servers. Algorithms detect anomalies and transmit data to physicians via the Web or a mobile device, drawing attention to patients who need immediate care.
“We can transmit data from a patient to servers that can process the data–all without the patient knowing about it–24-7,” says Ed Manicka, the company’s president. “Your patient could be in Singapore, could be in Brussels, or could be across the room from you. And you can look at data from a website, or from an iPhone. Our system allows the computer to watch a patient all the time, not requiring the physician to continually look at data and act on it.”
While some technologies exist that can do much of the same job, they are bulky and impractical or must be surgically implanted. “This is much more unobtrusive in people’s daily lives,” says Eric Topol, a cardiologist who directs the Scripps Translational Science Institute, a medical research center in La Jolla, CA.
In patients with heart disease, fluid buildup in the lungs leads to shortness of breath, places pressure on pulmonary arteries, and threatens to cause heart failure, requiring hospitalization to remove fluid. However, if the disease is caught early, before the patient feels symptoms, hospitalization can be avoided by giving the patient diuretics. Topol says that the Corventis device is unique in including an impedance detector, which measures the buildup of body fluid through an indirect electrical measurement. The buildup of body fluid serves as a proxy for the buildup of fluid in the lungs.
“We’ve never had that before for remote monitoring,” Topol says. Beyond warning of heart failure through fluid detection, the device includes an accelerometer that tells if a person is generally less active–a sign that he is in distress–or not lying flat at night, which is another proxy measurement for fluid buildup in the lungs. (Lying flat makes the resulting shortness of breath worse, and sufferers will often sleep propped up on pillows.)