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Portable ECG! Call of the hour?

India, a land nearing a population of a billion and half, has over 5% of its population suffering from CVDs, or cardiovascular diseases against the global average of 2.3%. In spite of such figures, CVDs are one of the largest casually neglected diseases. CVDs have been claiming about 18 million lives every year, primarily due to heart attacks and strokes, and surprisingly, a third of these deaths come from those who are under 70 years old and prematurely succumb to heart conditions.

While these figures have only been rising with the advent of consumerism and unhealthy lifestyles, our single line of defense stands as medical awareness. Most CVDs do show early signs before the symptoms become a grave danger, and although these might not be physically or visibly detectable, a 12 or a 16 lead ECG test is the best method to scan for any cardiovascular anomalies. During the COVID-19 pandemic, while most people were limited to a sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise only made them more susceptible to CVDs.

By now, most of you must be wondering about how one can check for, and even cure the symptoms of CVDs? Well, in a geography such as India, with a relatively fragile healthcare system, the traditional method remains getting tested at a diagnostic centre or a hospital that has ECG machines installed- a process that has a cycle time of over 24 hours! Let us see how.

General surgeons usually operate during the day, and this is also the time patients intend to visit them in the absence of any urgency. Assuming that a patient goes over to a surgeon in the morning and the surgeon prescribes a test, the patient has to go to a separate diagnostic centre in order to get themselves tested. Diagnostic centres in India earn out of sheer volume, which is why, instead of giving out test reports instantly, they focus on getting as many tests as can be done during the operational hours, and later distribute the test results as a bundle. So, the patient gets tested in the noon and receives the report in the evening, which again, is a pick-up, since most diagnostic centres still hand out hard copies of the test reports. On the contrary, by evening, general surgeons aren’t available, which is why the patient has to wait till the following day to get the results interpreted and treatment prescribed, thus resulting in 24 hours till the final diagnosis is available.

Although the recent pandemic has enabled various processes to evolve, the diagnostic testing system has only been able to carry forth a fraction of the tests they would have otherwise conducted, the major limitation being the sheer bulk of the equipment necessary to conduct the tests. One such test is the ECG as well, but now that portable, handheld ECG sensing devices such as the Wellnest 12L have been made available, will the diagnostic market take ECGs to homes? Only time will tell!

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