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The Lancet Digital Health: Heart failure screening during ECG-enabled stethoscope examination

Read an article published by Lancet Digital Health about heart failure screening with an ECG-enabled stethoscope.
February 1, 2021

Background

Most patients who have heart failure with a reduced ejection fraction, when left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) is 40% or lower, are diagnosed in hospital. This is despite previous presentations to primary care with symptoms. We aimed to test an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm applied to a single-lead ECG, recorded during ECG-enabled stethoscope examination, to validate a potential point-of-care screening tool for LVEF of 40% or lower.

Methods

We conducted an observational, prospective, multicentre study of a convolutional neural network (known as AI-ECG) that was previously validated for the detection of reduced LVEF using 12-lead ECG as input. We used AI-ECG retrained to interpret single-lead ECG input alone. Patients (aged ≥18 years) attending for transthoracic echocardiogram in London (UK) were recruited. All participants had 15 s of supine, single-lead ECG recorded at the four standard anatomical positions for cardiac auscultation, plus one handheld position, using an ECG-enabled stethoscope. Transthoracic echocardiogram-derived percentage LVEF was used as ground truth. The primary outcome was performance of AI-ECG at classifying reduced LVEF (LVEF ≤40%), measured using metrics including the area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUROC), sensitivity, and specificity, with two-sided 95% CIs. The primary outcome was reported for each position individually and with an optimal combination of AI-ECG outputs (interval range 0–1) from two positions using a rule-based approach and several classification models. This study is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT04601415.

Findings

Between Feb 6 and May 27, 2021, we recruited 1050 patients (mean age 62 years [SD 17·4], 535 [51%] male, 432 [41%] non-White). 945 (90%) had an ejection fraction of at least 40%, and 105 (10%) had an ejection fraction of 40% or lower. Across all positions, ECGs were most frequently of adequate quality for AI-ECG interpretation at the pulmonary position (979 [93·3%] of 1050). Quality was lowest for the aortic position (846 [80·6%]). AI-ECG performed best at the pulmonary valve position (p=0·02), with an AUROC of 0·85 (95% CI 0·81–0·89), sensitivity of 84·8% (76·2–91·3), and specificity of 69·5% (66·4–72·6). Diagnostic odds ratios did not differ by age, sex, or non-White ethnicity. Taking the optimal combination of two positions (pulmonary and handheld positions), the rule-based approach resulted in an AUROC of 0·85 (0·81–0·89), sensitivity of 82·7% (72·7–90·2), and specificity of 79·9% (77·0–82·6). Using AI-ECG outputs from these two positions, a weighted logistic regression with l2 regularisation resulted in an AUROC of 0·91 (0·88–0·95), sensitivity of 91·9% (78·1–98·3), and specificity of 80·2% (75·5–84·3).

Interpretation

A deep learning system applied to single-lead ECGs acquired during a routine examination with an ECG-enabled stethoscope can detect LVEF of 40% or lower. These findings highlight the potential for inexpensive, non-invasive, workflow-adapted, point-of-care screening, for earlier diagnosis and prognostically beneficial treatment.

Funding

NHS Accelerated Access Collaborative, NHSX, and the National Institute for Health Research.

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