By Paulina De Cesare

Faced with the need to share electrocardiograms with his colleagues in a clear and professional manner, Doctor Javier Fernández Portales decided to invest in mobile technology. “ECG Camera arose out of a real-life situation,” says the Director of the Cardiology Surgery Unit at the Hospital San Pedro de Alcántara de Cáceres, in Spain.

Available in five languages (Spanish, English, French, German and Portuguese), the application makes it possible to send electrocardiogram readouts via any instant messaging service. It plays a very practical and efficient role when two doctors communicate to consult over a diagnosis. Here, Doctor Fernández Portales, who is also the President of the Sociedad Extremeña de Cardiología, explains the origins and future of ECG Camera.

 You have gone in the other direction: instead of waiting for a solution from informatics engineers, you saw the need for a tool and asked them to build it

Exactly, this application arose from a real-life situation. Cardiologists’ inboxes and cell phones are full of photos of electrocardiograms, because when someone has a doubt, they consult a colleague. As a professional, I saw that there was a need for a communication channel and I contacted several informatics companies looking for a solution. In fact I found a group of young engineers who have made a big contribution, today, there is a great culture of understanding in eHealth.  

The application isn’t designed to provide diagnoses but it does analyze tests… 

Yes, we’ve designed an algorithm to help with reading the electrocardiogram, but the application isn’t a medical device and doesn’t interpret or provide automatic diagnoses. When we said that we were going to make an app for electrocardiograms everyone thought it would be a device that would report on the person’s condition but that’s impossible, it wasn’t one of our goals.

 And yet the app offers patients a second opinion service, how does it work? 

A user can take a photo of their electrocardiogram and send it to ask for a second opinion or confirm the diagnosis. It is us, however, who provide a report. We are also in contact with some golf and swimming federations thinking of the possibility that one day everyone might be able to take an electrocardiogram that can be transmitted via the app to see if patients doing sport suffer from any pathologies and whether it would be useful to do a test before commencing their training program. In any case, it isn’t an app designed for patients, it’s designed to be used by doctors. The second opinion service has a cost of between 10 and 15 euros.

As a professor of cardiology, you have given ECG Camera a teaching function via the Wizard ECG system and you’ve even included a book inside the app… 

We brought together several professors of electrocardiography and came up with a pattern that must be followed to interpret electrocardiograms. We have a large database of images of results so a student can check whether they are correct.Wizard ECG asks questions about electrocardiograms so that doctors can get accustomed to the method for viewing one. In addition, it fulfills a teaching role among professionals: when I see an interesting electrocardiogram I send it on to my colleagues and they find it very useful.

In its first year, ECG Camera has been downloaded by eight thousand users. The free trial allows 25 interactions but does not allow you to store electrocardiograms in the cloud. Then, one has to buy it – a system that has already earned a fifteen thousand euro profit.

“Now we are trying to get the pharmaceutical companies who are interested in that kind of service to help with the distribution and purchase of the app via the purchase of licenses,” says Fernández Portales.

The development of  ECG Camera required an investment of 75 thousand euros, provided by the doctor. He has recently launched the second version of the app, which is available only for iOS systems, but an Android compatible version is planned that would be similar to the first version. A third version is also in the works.