Dr. Leslie Saxon believes in the transformative power of technology. The founder and executive director of the Center for Body Computing (www.uscbodycomputing. org) — an independent wireless health centre at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles — she recently launched www.everyheartbeat.org, meant to record the heart rate of every beating heart in the world.
While this may seem to be an audacious goal, through this data, scientists and health researchers can better understand the workings of this complex organ and predict problems before they arise. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide.
Dr. Saxon says: “We are trying to synthesise medicine and everyday technology — most people in the world have access to a cell phone — to enhance everyone's quality of life, especially for the two billion people worldwide who lack access to healthcare. We have discovered that if you open up continuous health data to the network, people live longer. We are creating a platform that will be accessible to anyone around the world. We want to use this data to study life patterns, identify disease, solve endemic health problems, and give people control over their health.”
The idea is to enable people from any part of the globe to log their heart rate data with a mobile phone and a sensor. Cardiac care usually consists of monitoring heart health after disease or a cardiac arrest. But Dr. Saxon and her team have been working on ways of continuously monitoring and checking patterns that emerge. This has certain immediate and obvious advantages. Most strokes that occur unpredictably are usually followed by a change in heart rhythms.
Announced on April 13 this year at the TEDMED conference in Washington D.C., the idea has already generated interest. During Dr. Saxon's speech, she talked about one device, AliveCor ECG case, which she has studied at the Center for Body Computing. AliveCor ECG is an iPhone case with two electrodes that gives an ECG reading. The ECG can then be emailed or stored. “I personally reviewed all the tracings. In one situation, I was able to diagnose acute cardiac ischemia in a Nigerian gentleman in Mumbai from my home in Los Angeles by reviewing a 30-second ECG collected on the iPhone. This was personally gratifying and represents a brilliant example of leveraging our experts across the globe,” says Dr. Saxon.
How can people in resource-poor areas participate? “Theeveryheartbeat.org initiative is still in an early stage, but we have a lot of smart and dedicated people working on the project. There are five billion mobile phones in the world. Even in the poorest areas, mobile phones are sometimes more cheaply available than food. We calculate that two billion people have no access to healthcare. We believe that mobile phones can play a part in helping people in resource-poor areas. Imagine a mobile phone telling you when you need to see your physician, rather than the other way around, and then helping you access a specialist anywhere in the world,” says Dr. Saxon.