Smart trolleys: How your next shopping trip could be life-saving

Jun 27, 2023
Supermarket trolleys equipped with ECG sensors offer a convenient way to detect abnormal heart rhythms and potentially save lives. Source: Getty

Supermarket trolleys, typically known for their wonky wheels and rusty frames, are now being considered for a groundbreaking purpose, helping to identify individuals at risk of stroke.

Researchers have devised a unique approach to screening adults for abnormal heart rhythms by installing electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors in supermarket trolley handles, potentially enabling early detection of cardiovascular problems like Atrial fibrillation (AF).

AF is a prevalent condition in Australia that affects half a million Aussies and increases your risk of having a stroke or developing heart failure.

According to the Heart Foundation, AF “reduces your heart’s ability to pump blood properly and increases the chance of a blood clot forming in your heart and travelling up to your brain, where it can cause a stroke.”

This unique health screening concept was presented by Researchers from Liverpool John Moores University, who conducted trials at four Sainsbury’s supermarkets over three months, involving 2,155 adults.

During the trial, participants were instructed to grasp the trolley handle for a minimum of 60 seconds.

If the ECG sensors detected signs of AF, a red cross would flash on the handle, while a green tick indicated no abnormal rhythms. All participants also received a pulse check as an additional screening measure.

Among the 220 participants whose ECG data flagged them as potentially having AF, cardiologists later diagnosed 59 individuals with the condition.

39 of these individuals were previously unaware of their AF status and were promptly contacted to arrange cardiology appointments for further evaluation.

Professor Ian Jones, one of the study’s authors, emphasises the importance of the accessibility provided by this health screening approach, stating that “by adopting this kind of approach [to health screening], we’ve become more accessible, and therefore we’re much more likely to identify healthcare problems.”

“Nearly two-thirds of the shoppers we approached were happy to use a trolley, and the vast majority of those who declined were in a rush rather than wary of being monitored,” he said.

“This shows that the concept is acceptable to most people and worth testing in a larger study.”

In addition to the potential for early detection and diagnosis of AF, the implementation of smart trolleys with ECG sensors offers the added advantage of convenience.

Using these smart trolleys would mean people would no longer need to go out of their way to schedule separate check-ups or screenings for heart related issues.

The combination of healthcare into everyday tasks has the potential to improve overall accessibility to screenings and encourage more proactive monitoring of cardiovascular health, particularly for older adults who may face challenges in accessing traditional healthcare services.

These smart trolleys could also be an alternative solution for wearable devices for AF detection, as many people still lack access to these gadgets.

While the approval of smart trolleys with ECG sensors is still pending, older Australians can take advantage of the Hearts4Heart app, Feel The Beat, to monitor their heart rate and assess their risk of atrial fibrillation (AF) at no cost.

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