Mobile app lets doctors tell when a heart murmur is benign

More than half of all heart murmur referrals to pediatric cardiologists are for a Still’s murmur — a benign murmur that naturally occurs in 50 to 90 percent of children and goes away by adolescence.

Every year, pediatric cardiologists in the United States see 1.3 million children with Still’s murmurs. That adds up to over $400 million in consultation fees alone.

The cardiologist, in turn, may still be unsure whether the murmur is benign after listening to the child’s heart with a stethoscope. He or she might order a follow-up echocardiogram to be certain. If this happens just 10 percent of the time, that’s an additional $200 million in unnecessary costs incurred per year. On top of the financial burden on the healthcare system, the referrals and testing cause unnecessary anxiety for patients and families.

A mobile app in development by Raj Shekhar, MD, of Children’s National Health System and his team has the potential to significantly alleviate these burdens. The app, called StethAid, allows pediatricians to identify a Still’s murmur, thus establishing the child’s murmur as benign and eliminating the need for cardiac referral.

As Shekhar described in his five-minute Ignite talk last month at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards, StethAid would work in conjunction with a stethoscope attachment when a worrisome heart murmur is detected during a standard stethoscope examination.

If the app is further developed and widely used, it could make a huge impact on how our healthcare system manages the diagnosis of heart murmurs in children.

Susan Saleeb, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at the Boston Children’s Heart Center who often sees patients referred for questionable murmurs, thinks the technology is interesting and potentially far reaching. However, she adds that “the success of this device will depend on the accuracy of the tool, and the ability to convince clinicians and parents of such.”

See more posts and videos from the Global Pediatric Innovation Summit.