Where Is Diagnostic ECG Headed in 2021? 3 Trends to Watch For

GE Healthcare

By Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) account for an estimated 31% of all deaths worldwide. Since their invention over a century ago, ECGs have been instrumental in the diagnosis and monitoring of various CVDs, and innovations have produced diagnostic ECGs that deliver more accurate results in less time, helping doctors make timely treatment decisions that ultimately benefit more patients.

Innovation in healthcare technology, particularly around diagnostic ECG, continues to change how CVD is diagnosed, monitored, and treated. Global demand is also driving growth in the ECG market, which is expected to maintain a compound annual growth rate of 5.6% and reach $6,637 million by 2023, according to Allied Market Research.

Patients are also becoming more empowered to monitor and track their own health, and as products and services are increasingly integrated with cloud interfaces and electronic health record (EHR) systems, diagnostic ECG technology is evolving to help them do so. Here are the top ECG trends for 2021 to help you better understand and anticipate changes that could profoundly influence—and change—current practices.

1. Wearable ECG Devices

Wearable technology continues to weave itself into healthcare. Many medical device manufacturers are seeing growing demand for wearables as patients demand less restrictive ways to monitor their health. Convenience is also key, as wearable devices can help physicians continuously monitor at-risk patients outside of a healthcare facility.

Ambulatory ECG technology, such as Holter monitors, offer high-quality data acquisition over time, allowing doctors to see trends and identify problems more quickly. New ambulatory ECGs are smaller and more comfortable, and some feature custom apps that guide patients through the hook-up process with visual guidance for lead placement. Additionally, certain types of ambulatory diagnostic ECGs can be easily integrated with other systems, such as telemetry or IT, to help share information, store data, and ensure patient privacy.

2. Artificial Intelligence

Predictive AI algorithms are already being used in healthcare facilities nationwide, but these systems primarily utilize mobile cloud computing (MCC) models. As such, data transmission costs are climbing, and providers with time-sensitive needs may be faced with disconnection from core networks, latency issues, and bandwidth variations. Together, these problems could dramatically affect the likelihood of positive patient outcomes.

As outlined in a Pattern Recognition Letters paper, AI systems are beginning to transition away from MCC models in favor of paradigms with greater availability and reduced latency, such as:

  • Edge computing, which occurs directly on the devices to which sensors are attached or on gateway devices that are physically close to the sensors
  • Fog computing, which acts at the local area network level and includes bigger devices, such as PCs and local servers

As technology advances, AI-enabled ECG may provide better real-time evaluation of data using quality assessment algorithms embedded directly in edge devices. Other algorithms may be used by AI systems to identify specific cardiovascular issues, as a Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology study exhibited with left ventricular systolic dysfunction. According to preliminary investigational data, utilizing AI systems of this kind often outperforms other diagnostic methods.

Stay on top of cardiology trends and best practices by browsing our Diagnostic ECG Clinical Insights Center.

3. COVID-19 Prevention in Patients with Cardiovascular Disease

The world is still gripped by COVID-19, and research in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that individuals with underlying cardiovascular disease are up to ten times more likely to die of COVID-19. In addition, the long-term effects of COVID-19 infection continue to be realized as many patients infected with the virus develop serious cardiovascular complications, such as myocarditis.

Researchers speculate that heart damage plays a primary role in severe COVID-19 infection and death, and greater emphasis is being placed on prevention of COVID-19 infection in CVD patients as a result. Primary prevention measures outlined by Heart include additional isolation measures and social distancing guidelines for patients with preexisting CVD similar to those for other high-risk patient populations, such as immunocompromised individuals.

Ambulatory CVD patients who are also diagnosed with COVID-19 may benefit from greater outpatient monitoring and lower thresholds for hospitalization. Patients with CVD and COVID-19 who are already hospitalized may be more likely to recover if diagnostic ECG is used more frequently to identify early signs of cardiac injury.

The evolution of ECG technology can usher in better ways of monitoring patients, interpreting ECG results, and preventing serious complications from COVID-19. Improvements to ECG will continue to aid physicians in the timely diagnosis and management of cardiovascular problems and may even help patients become more responsible for their own health outcomes.

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN has been writing professionally since 2016 after spending over nine years in clinical practice in various specialties.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of GE Healthcare. The author is a paid consultant for GE Healthcare and was compensated for creation of this article.