Wil’s Blog – Early detection and timely diagnosis

Published On: 31 May 2022Categories: Blog, News

We held the fifth stage of our Your Heart Matters tour last week. For this project, we have travelled across the United Kingdom promoting awareness of heart valve disease and offering stethoscope checks to those over the 50.

So far, we have listened to well over a thousand hearts and found over one hundred previously undetected cardiac conditions. We know that early detection is key to better outcomes, and by the end of this year-long project, not only will we have raised awareness of heart valve disease, but we will have got hundreds of people onto a pathway that could save their life.

In Brighton, people braved the sun, wind and driving rain to come along and support the event. I would like to thank the team from Sussex Hospitals, Valve for Life, and all our fantastic volunteers for making the event happen.

Promoting awareness of heart valve disease signs and symptoms is the cornerstone of what we do. Still, with a stretched workforce in Primary Care, we need to find innovative solutions to how we can increase the use of stethoscopes while improving the quality of the listening – and I believe that innovative stethoscopes that use artificial intelligence will provide part of that solution.

Last week I was on BBC Look East to discuss the Cambridge University Digital Stethoscope Project, led by Andrew McDonald and Anurag Agarwal. We’ve been supporters of the project for some time. We have helped the team promote the technology and provided patients whose heart sounds they could record to test the device.

Last week’s show looked at their work with Papworth Hospital. At Papworth, they are running a study to test the device’s efficacy in detecting a murmur by recording thousands more heart sounds. We recently took the Cambridge team with us to Westminster, where they showed the device to policymakers and explained how it could be used to support increasing the detection of heart valve disease and improving pathways.

The key to this incredible device is the accuracy with which it can detect a clinically significant murmur and the ease of training people to use it. With considerable pressure on the existing primary care workforce, this device would allow the health service to diversify who is listening to hearts and in what settings.

In GP surgeries, nurses and clinical support staff could be trained to use the device. Meaning we can upskill the existing workforce and provide greater opportunities to offer stethoscope checks to patients.

However, the opportunity to use this device in Pharmacies could change things significantly.

We know that many people go to the pharmacy before visiting their GP. Many pharmacists already offer blood pressure checks and some arrhythmia checks. If this stethoscope could get into every pharmacy, the amount of hearts being listened to could rise exponentially. Crucially, the infrastructure needs to be set up so that if a Pharmacist detects a murmur, they can refer directly to Echocardiography.

This would then reduce the pressure on GPs, improve referral speeds and make sure we don’t see unnecessary diagnostics by sending patients for needless tests – even though we may see more patients, we will actually lessen the burden by making sure the right patient get the diagnostics in the right place.

Promoting early detection of valve disease comes with a responsibility to support Primary Care in delivering it. I’m committed to working with patients, clinicians, and innovators like Andrew and Anurag, to ensure we can listen to more hearts. Devices like the digital stethoscope will allow us to listen to more hearts with greater accuracy and more touchpoints to detect patients.

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