15 June 2018

Preventing strokes and saving lives with new digital technology

The challenge

It is estimated that more than 420,000 people across England have undiagnosed Atrial Fibrillation (AF), an irregular heart rhythm, which can cause a stroke if not detected and treated appropriately.

One in four people will develop Atrial Fibrillation, it affects an estimated 1.5 million people across the UK and increases the risk of stroke five-fold for people with the condition. It contributes to one in five strokes in the UK and AF and AF related illness costs the NHS over £2.2 billion each year AF often goes undiagnosed and it is estimated there could be another half a million people in the UK with undiagnosed AF.

Every 15 seconds someone suffers an AF-related stroke, yet most can be prevented if AF is detected early enough. This can be done cheaply and easily with a simple manual or single lead ECG pulse check, and using appropriate anticoagulation therapy.

Facing the challenge

To help detect undiagnosed Atrial Fibrillation, All 14 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) have rolled out innovative new technology.

During March 2018, UCLPartners alongside the other two London AHSNs have distributed more than 1,200 mobile electrocardiogram (ECG) units to GP practices, pharmacies and NHS community clinics across London. The technology rolled out can detect irregular heart rhythm quickly and easily, enabling NHS staff to refer any patients with irregular heart rhythms for follow up as they could be at risk of severe stroke.

In the UCLPartners region, 670 devices were distributed. The mobile devices provide a far more sensitive and specific pulse check than a manual check and can reduce costly and unnecessary 12 lead ECGs to confirm diagnosis.

As someone with a diagnosis of AF I have to monitor my heart rhythm regularly. I used to attend A&E on a fairly frequent basis, having manually detected changes in my heart rhythm, but often once I got there my heart rhythm would have changed and I’d have no way of showing the doctors what had been happening. Now I have a mobile ECG device I am able to monitor my heart rhythm more accurately. This has reduced the trips I have to make to A&E and meant that when I do have to go to hospital, I can show the doctors the rhythms I have been detectingEileen Porter, a London resident who has benefitted from using a mobile ECG device

Impact

This NHS England funded project aims to identify 45,474 new cases of AF over two years, which could prevent at least 924 strokes and save £20.6 million in associated health and costs annually.