What do race cars and the latest in healthcare technology have in common?

The modern F1 race cars are networked, connected and intelligent machines that have hundreds of sensors. These sensors deliver billions of data points, that are analysed, and help the cars outperform their competition – just like Lewis Hamilton did in his dramatic win at the Silverstone! 

But what does that have to do with better healthcare? Well, one piece of technology that is changing the way healthcare is being delivered is Balistocardiography combined with Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

Balistocardiography or BCG was developed in 1877 by JW Gordon that was inspired by seismology and was majorly developed to explore and monitor cardiac activity by incorporating sensors used in weighing scales. But, it had its challenges and eventually faded away from use.  To top that, ECG was developed in 1903, and came with the benefit of much better, reproducible results. But, today, almost a century later, BCG has made a comeback, enhanced with AI.

Revival of BCG in congruence with AI, today: 

Currently, the need of the hour is continuous monitoring without compliance or additional effort – and contactless BCG has that capability, for a whole plethora of applications. 

Ballistocardiograph (BCG) is a measure of ballistic forces generated by your heart. This means it measures the downward movement of blood through your descending aorta and produces an upward recoil, moving your body up, ever so slightly, with each heartbeat. It is a non-obtrusive method that helps produce a graphical representation of repetitive motions of your body, arising from the sudden ejection of blood into your blood vessels with each heartbeat. 

This tech is further advanced by combining ECG and BCG. An ECG measures the electrical activity of your heart and is used to detect problems, including heart attacks, arrhythmias, and so on.  In the case of BCG is a non-invasive and a no-contact way of monitoring your heart’s activity, by measuring the mechanical activity of your heart, using piezoelectric crystals. And in the most nascent form of the technology, these crystals can be placed under your bed and record mechanical activity like the movements of your heart, heart beats, blood pressure, breathing pattern, and other fine and coarse movements of the body. All these mechanical signals can be filtered to obtain necessary signals for almost all parts of your body that can be recorded, analysed and flagged appropriately. 

BCG is at the precipice of replacing invasive methods of cardiac measurements and can be a breakthrough in non-invasive monitoring. Add to that the use of algorithms, internet of things and artificial intelligence, doctors can create a protocol that can help in detection and analysis of abnormal heart rhythms, respiratory rate, rhythms and sleep patterns.  Also, the data recorded by BCG can also detect patient worsening in terms of heart failure, obstructive sleep apnoea, Parkinson’s tremors earlier – helping to not only catch these signs earlier, but also prevent and treat these ailments successfully, reducing fatalities. 

Why did BCG fade away in the past: 

After BCG was discovered, it was the focus of intense research in the 1940’s right up to the 80s, until it faded away. A few reasons for that, include:

  • There was a lack of standard measurement techniques, leading to no standardised protocols for interpretation.. 
  • A lack of understanding of the exact physiologic origin of the BCG waveform.
  •  High susceptibility to noise
  • BCG was unable, at that time, to render accurate clinical diagnosis of myocardial infarctions, angina pectoris and coronary heart disease as it was not as specific.

But what really paused the use of BCG was the dawn of the ultrasound and ECG techniques that were non-invasive for cardiac and hemodynamic diagnosis.

Predictive healthcare — The future of BCG and AI in healthcare:

The future holds promise for BCG, especially when combined with AI. In fact, research on how BCG can be used to determine and possibly predict ailments such as high blood pressure, sleep apnoea, heart failure, respiratory failure, seizures and a whole plethora of other ailments are picking up.  

In fact, studies have found that combining the use of BCG with other methods of diagnosis can also help physicians see how CVD progresses and how intervention works. The technology can also help patients with chemotherapy and for their treating physicians to gauge how well the treatment is working, and more importantly can be used to avoid cardiotoxicity and cardiovascular risk during cancer treatment.

All in all, integrating ECG with BCG can be a game changer. Imagine all the health data that can be collected and analysed with the help of machine learning algorithms – allowing healthcare to become predictive rather than reactive. With the advent of technology, the day is not far. We can detect problems in advance, patients can be brought in on time and catastrophes can be prevented. We all know prevention is better than cure, but early detection can help with better outcomes and long-term results. 



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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