The smartphone will see you now! ‘Electronic stethoscope’ app can monitor your heartbeat by placing your device’s microphone to your chest

  • The app works by placing your device’s microphone to your chest
  • It can record the basic beating heart but also the sounds of valves in between 
  • It could be used to reveal if someone has a heart murmur or atrial fibrillation 

An electronic stethoscope on a smartphone could pave the way for doctors to monitor patients’ hearts remotely.

The traditional doctor’s stethoscope was invented in 1816, but almost 200 years later it is possible to place a smartphone on your chest and record a heartbeat.

An app developed by a team including King’s College London records not only the basic ‘lub-dub’ of a beating heart but the sounds in between of its valves opening and closing.

Its main use in the future could be to reveal if someone has a heart murmur, which causes an abnormal ‘swishing’ sound between heartbeats, and indicates someone has a heart valve condition.

It could also provide extra information to detect atrial fibrillation, which affects more than a million people in the UK.

An electronic stethoscope on a smartphone could pave the way for doctors to monitor patients’ hearts remotely

The traditional doctor’s stethoscope was invented in 1816, but almost 200 years later it is possible to place a smartphone on your chest and record a heartbeat

How does it work? 

Users simply hold their phone against their chest in one of four recommended areas, hit record, then save the audio file.

Once someone has saved a recording of their heart on the Echoes app, which launched last May, it is added to a database for researchers to analyse for sound quality and medical implications.

Users receive no diagnoses or recommendations to contact a doctor, but the app could provide this in the future.

Atrial fibrillation, better known as an irregular heartbeat, is best picked up by an echocardiogram, which can be incorporated in a smart watch, but the app could provide more information in the future.

New research on the Echoes app, due to be presented at the New Scientist Live event in London this weekend, shows more than 80 per cent of people are able to accurately create a good-quality recording of their heart by placing their phone on their chest.

Analysis of 1,148 users showed people could detect their own heartbeat regardless of their sex or weight, although over-60s took a little longer to get used to the technology.

The app is also used by people to keep mementos of dying loved ones, by recording their heartbeat.

Pablo Lamata, professor of biomedical engineering at the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences, King’s College London, who helped to develop the app, said: ‘This research proves that mobile technologies are a viable way of recording heart sounds and that, in the future, cardiac patients and doctors could use at-home recordings to check for existence or progression of heart conditions.’

The app was developed in partnership with Maastricht University and a private company called Cellule Design Studio, with input from consultants and patients at the British Heart Foundation and Evelina Children’s Heart Organisation (ECHO).

A study published in European Heart Journal – Digital Health collected more than 7,500 heart sound recordings from international users last year.

It found 75 per cent were good quality, and most of these were achieved within three attempts using a smartphone’s inbuilt microphone.

Users simply hold their phone against their chest in one of four recommended areas, hit record, then save the audio file.

Once someone has saved a recording of their heart on the Echoes app, which launched last May, it is added to a database for researchers to analyse for sound quality and medical implications

Once someone has saved a recording of their heart on the Echoes app, which launched last May, it is added to a database for researchers to analyse for sound quality and medical implications.

Users receive no diagnoses or recommendations to contact a doctor, but the app could provide this in the future.

Professor James Leiper, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which also helped to fund the research (SUBS – pls keep), said (SUBS – pls keep): ‘Further research is needed to test how the app can be used in tandem with existing heart monitoring techniques.

‘However, if successful, this development could mark an important step towards having heart monitoring tools at your fingertips.’

Samantha Johnson, chief executive of ECHO, said: ‘For children living with heart conditions hearing their own heartbeat and comparing it to family or friends has been fun and opened conversations about their heart conditions.’

Grandmother uses Echoes app to record her donated heart beating in her chest 

Gary Beathard, 70 (Beth’s husband), Beth Beathard, 65 (heart recipient), Margaret Hamilton, 61 (donor Catherine Isadore’s mother), Kevin McCoy, 43 (donor’s brother – stood behind), Danielle Isadore, 16 (donor’s daughter), Daniel Isadore, 18 (donor’s son), Dillion, 14 (donor’s son)

Being able to record her heartbeat on a smartphone allowed Beth Beathard to give an important gift.

She had a heart transplant 14 years ago, and the heart came from a young 23-year-old mother who died tragically following a stroke.

Mrs Beathard, 65, met the children of her donor, Catherine Isadore, for the first time in May when she invited them to watch her run a 5K race to raise awareness of organ donation.

Afterwards they asked for a recording of their mother’s heart beating in her chest, but she wasn’t due to have an ECG for six months.

The grandmother-of-two said: ‘I used the Echoes app to take a recording of the heart beating and sent it to Catherine’s family so they could hear that part of her lives on.

‘Their family gave me the gift of life and I message Catherine’s mother on the anniversary of my heart transplant every year, but this was something else even more special that I could do for them.’

Mrs Beathard was just 50 years old when, having previously had no symptoms beyond tiredness, she was rushed to hospital with a racing heart in March 2007.

Heart donor Catherine Isadore, who died aged 23 after suffering a stroke

Her heart was dangerously enlarged and she was fitted with a defibrillator, which shocked it back into a normal rhythm, but after 18 months, she had run out of treatments which worked and was placed on the transplant list.

At 6.30am on November 7, 2008, she received a call to say a heart was available.

It belonged to Catherine, who had died leaving behind three children under the age of five.

They are Daniel, now 18, Danielle, aged 16, and Dillion (CORR), who is 14.

Having met Catherine’s mother, Margaret, a year after her transplant, and kept in touch, Mrs Beathard and husband Gary invited her to the 5K race in May.

Catherine’s children, who went too, heard their mother’s heart for the first time through a stethoscope.

Mrs Beathard, who worked providing financial aid for students before retiring, was eager to provide a permanent recording of her heartbeat when asked.

Although she lives in Dallas, Texas, the Echoes app created at King’s College London is available internationally, so this was what she used.

The 65-year-old said: ‘It meant a great deal to Catherine’s family to now have that audible memory of her, and was very healing and emotional for us all.

‘Every day on the transplant list I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up, and I am grateful to have had these extra 14 years of life.’

Catherine Isadore’s donated organs helped four people in total.

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