Heart failure is a global public health issue of epidemic proportions and represents a tremendous burden on overall healthcare costs. At least 5 million Americans have heart failure and approximately 550,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the US alone.  Everyday, 16 people die from heart disease and stroke in Singapore. In fact, heart disease accounts for 30% of death worldwide and in years to come will continue to be the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. One of the first steps in evaluating the heart system after detailed history taking is the physical examination. Auscultation of the heart or listening to the heart sounds forms the core of heart physical examination. Heart auscultation provides important initial clues in patient evaluation and serves as a guide for further diagnostic testing.
The stethoscope is the doctor’s best “friend”, a medical device for listening to heart sound for diagnosis of heart-related diseases. However, there are some challenges faced in using the stethoscope to diagnose heart diseases as follows:
- Some abnormality from the heart sounds occurs sporadically or at irregular intervals. Thus, it might not be captured during the time of diagnosis.
- Difficult to automate the process of diagnosis as it is performed at different locations of the human chest to identify the different heart sounds.
- Experienced doctors are required to listen to the heart sounds to pick out anomalies
Technology Features, Specifications and Advantages
The Smart Stethoscope (S3) combines both Stethoscope and ECG capability while compacted into a small wearable for the user. ECG essentially provides the timing information to accurately determine the heart sounds (S1, S2 and S3/S4 if any). As such, the heart sound measurements can be done at any single location on the chest (as opposed to multiple specific locations as what medical practitioner usually does). S3 can be used at home without any special training or medical knowledge.
S3 is designed to be worn by the user/patient to allow continuous monitoring of abnormal heart sound signals even though the occurrence is non-regular or sporadic.
S3 improves the outcome of pre-diagnosis by highlighting to the patient’s doctor of any event or early clues of heart disease. The collected heart sound and ECG data will be piped and stored in the cloud for data analysis using machine learning. This is useful as it can perform pre-diagnosis classification of patients’ heart condition whether it is low risk, medium risk or high risk.
Design of S3 is about the size of the normal stethoscope, easy to use and cost-effective so it can be deployed at home or anywhere convenient for the patients or user.
Features of S3 are as follows:
- Diaphragm-less based stethoscope design
- Dry sensors for ECG sensing to improve quality of ECG signals
- Touch sensor based on the skin resistance
- Algorithm able to determine heart sounds S1 and S2, independent of device acquisition position on the chest
The Smart Stethoscope captures the heart sounds and transmits the signal via Bluetooth technology to a mobile device. The data will be uploaded to the cloud for storage and processing. The processed signal will be classified as abnormal if any anomalies are detected and flagged out for attention. The setup makes possible remote monitoring (telemedicine) where the doctor in charge can download the data for review before having a face-to-face consultation with the patient.
- Telemedicine –Convenient for immobile or overseas patients.
This device will help to transcend the physical barriers that we have in trying to implement telemedicine
- Consumer Device –As a portable or wearable lifestyle monitoring aid
Time and transport cost savings and convenience to the user are benefits that S3 can provide to customers. As heart anomalies are sporadic in nature, visits to the clinics/ hospitals for diagnosis may not detect any heart disease. The smart stethoscope can be used to capture signals at the point when the user is not feeling well, thus having a better chance of capturing the abnormal heart sounds. This mode of operation saves time and money for all parties.
For the user/patient, he saves on transport cost and time spent traveling to the clinic/ hospital for consultation. For the healthcare system, resources can be spent more productively in treating sick patients instead of trying to capture and diagnose suspecting patients.
S3 can be deployed to monitor patients with heart diseases remotely or at home on a regular basis, increasing the chances of capturing abnormal heart sound signals. This in turn lessens the burden of the healthcare system as every year many people are hospitalized for the monitoring of heart-related diseases.