A lifesaving smartphone device that can cheaply and quickly detect stroke-causing heart rhythm abnormalities is being piloted for the first time in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.
Clipping onto the back of most smartphones, the iECG device can be used with minimal training and delivers accurate results in 30 seconds.
“AF causes of one third of all strokes in Australia – and most are potentially preventable,” said Professor Ben Freedman from the Charles Perkins Centre and Heart Research Institute.
“But this requires detection of the abnormal heart rhythm which is often asymptomatic before stroke occurs,” he said.
A new pilot program run by the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at the University of Sydney, funded by the National Heart Foundation, is trialing the technology to create the first national snapshot of AF rates in Aboriginal people.
Currently there are no published studies about the prevalence of AF in people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, despite it being a leading risk factor for ischaemic stroke, a condition affecting one in 25 Aboriginal people.
Having commenced in Brewarrina this May, researchers will conduct 1500 screens over the next 12 months in communities including Toomelah, Boggabilla, Mungindi, Moree, Inverell, Geraldton and Alice Springs to complete the picture of AF prevalence in Aboriginal people and improve cardiovascular health literacy in Aboriginal communities.
“Despite AF being a highly treatable condition, it is frequently silent and can be difficult to detect,” said Kylie Gwynne, Director of the Poche Centre at the University of Sydney.
Most of the existing data available of AF in Aboriginal people has been generated after a cardiovascular event has taken place. This study is the first to opportunistically screen patients for AF, taking a preventative approach in assessing patients at a younger age before associated cardiovascular complications like stroke occur.
Watch ABC News' report on the Poche Centre's pilot iECG program in NSW. Read the ABC News Online story.
The screening will be accompanied by a public awareness campaign into the causes, prevention, symptoms and treatment of cardiovascular disease, helping to increase the health literacy of Aboriginal people.
The 35 devices will also remain in the communities after the screening is completed, with dedicated Aboriginal health workers given training on how to use the iECGs in future.
With minimal training, people without formal medical qualifications can also effectively operate the portable iECGs. Members of the local community will be trained, in order to be able to conduct screenings themselves.
The Poche Centre for Indigenous Health was established and funded in 2008 by philanthropists Greg Poche AO, Kay Van Norton Poche and their friend Reg Richardson AM. Since establishing the first Poche Centre at the University of Sydney, a network of centres has been created across the country with different areas of focus, and the Poche’s have gifted more than $50 million to support their work. Professor Tom Calma AO has been Patron of the Poche Indigenous Health Network since 2010.
Last week, NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner launched the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health’s new five-year strategy Healthy Kids. Healthy Teeth. Healthy Hearts. at Parliament House, confirming the Centre’s continued focus on these three areas it has identified as ongoing health priorities in Aboriginal communities.