CP Stethoscope experiment
June 24, 2014

New Heart Failure Detection Device Could Save Lives And Money

Rebekah Eliason for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Approximately 5.1 million Americans are affected by heart failure, which is the leading cause of hospitalization and death. However, until recently no reliable, cost effective, and non-invasive method existed. A new device that could measure the changes in water content of the lungs could be an invaluable tool in early detection of heart failure.

"There is a significant need," said Magdy Iskander, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and director of the Hawaii Center for Advanced Communications of the university's college of engineering, citing additional conditions that potentially could benefit from the new technology, including edema, emphysema, dehydration, blood infection, acute lung injury and the effects of critical burns.

"The impact could be tremendous, particularly for predicting heart failure," he said in a recent National Science Foundation report.

Including the cost of health care services, medications to treat heart failure and missed days of works, Americans spend an estimated $32 billion annually for heart failure costs. In addition, heart failure frequently causes patients to be readmitted to hospitals within 30 days following their initial discharge.

"Annually more than one million patients are hospitalized due to heart failure, which accounts for a total Medicare expenditure exceeding $17 billion," Iskander said.

Iskander, who is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), has invented a new type of stethoscope which he believes will allow significantly positive changes for patients who suffer from heart failure and other related conditions. This new device can attach to the body surface similar to an EKG sensor so it removes the need for implantation. It uses a novel radio frequency (RF) sensor that can detect minute changes in lung water, as well as monitor vital signs including heart and respiration rate and stroke volume.

Since normal healthy lungs usually contain some water, the plan is to initially use the device to obtain a baseline. Iskander said this will allow them to identify future changes, “before there are problems.”

Because of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare is able to reduce hospital payment for excessive readmissions. "Thus hospitals are motivated because now they are penalized when patients come back with heart failure within 30 days," he said.

Iskander also envisions the device used as part of “telemedicine.” This would enable the device to connect using the internet. Doctors could then monitor vital signs remotely and regularly transmit data.

"The most important thing is that we believe it will help save lives," Iskander added. "But it also will almost certainly result in big savings in health care costs."

Research for the cardio-pulmonary stethoscope began years earlier when Iskaner was in the Air Force studying the effect of electromagnetic radiation on humans and developing safety standards for microwave exposure.

"We were trying to evaluate safe levels, and the biological effects of working with microwaves, and we were exploring the use of microwaves in medical applications," he says.

Through this research he discovered that microwave signals can reflect the change in lung water.

"If the lungs have too much water, the magnitude of the microwave signal is reduced because water absorbs microwaves," he says. "The more water, the weaker the signal."

Because the technology for this device is the same as that used in cellphones, Iskander is able to dramatically reduce his research costs. Moreover, "the stethoscope actually is more accurate," he says.