Local doctor uses high-tech to prevent strokes and heart attacks

SEATTLE — A local doctor believes the key to preventing heart attacks and strokes could be found in a device you're already wearing.

Dr. Nirav Shah is a Seattle stroke neurologist who launched a new app, Sentinel. The app uses information from wearable devices like blood pressure cuffs, heart rate monitors and oxygen monitors, and sends the information through Bluetooth technology to a phone app.

The information is shared with doctors who can analyze the data and make recommendations before forwarding it to the patient's doctor. Sentinel has been prescribed to more than 200 patients so far to monitor blood pressure using a blood pressure cuff.

The constant monitoring gives doctors a much better understanding of a patient's health than the snapshot they get in a visit to the doctor.

"We've never even had some of this data. It is like we've been operating in the dark," said Dr. Nirav Shah.

"We can reduce that burden of high blood pressure quickly and 10 times faster than the standard of care, which normally would take a couple of years from the first time someone shows up at a clinic with high blood pressure. We're able to do it within weeks."

Dr. Shah hopes in the future the technology could expand to other wearable devices that have FDA approval. The latest Apple watch can monitor the heart with an FDA-approved echocardiogram.

Dr. Carrie Fathke, a doctor at Swedish Cherry Hill in Seattle, works to incorporate technology and analytics into health records and patient care.

"If you put these tools in the hands of people seeking care, we can move them out of brick and mortar and we can put the control more back into the patients' hands," said Dr. Fathke.

She says daily monitoring is key, instead of a single visit. 
The Sentinel app interprets the data for physicians and makes recommendations to prevent illness.

"Getting control of those early means we can have improved outcomes, we can prevent strokes, we can prevent heart failure, we can prevent heart attacks, we can prevent having to go on chronic dialysis," said Dr. Fathke. "The technology is now there to help us do those things."

KIRO 7 asked privacy expert Tim Helming, of Domain Tools, about the technology and if patients should be concerned about sharing data from a wearable device.

"I would do my homework on it. If I were satisfied it was a really secure system and felt good about how the data was being handled, I would certainly consider it," said Helming.

Sentinel's Chief Technology Officer (CTO) explained how the data is protected. "We use HIPPA-compliant cloud services and we also encrypt the data on the mobile device so end to end the data is encrypted," explained Noah Manders, Sentinel's CTO.

The app is being used for patients at clinics in Arizona, Tennessee and Florida. In January, it will be available to patients in Seattle.

They're focused on patients between 65 and 90 years old. They made the app simple to use and if a patient is unable to use it a caregiver can easily step in and help.

Brooke Pugh, 39, survived a stroke last February. "Kind of unreal, scary for sure. You don't expect that, you think stroke, you think people who are older," said Pugh.

She worries she could have another stroke. "It's one of those things, it could happen at anytime. You just don't know."

The Marysville resident hopes the technology will be expanded to other wearable devices like her Fitbit and Apple Watches.

"If those things could say, 'Hey, something you're doing is causing your heart rate to be higher than it should be, or your blood pressure is higher than it should be even though you're on medication, something's not right, what do we need to do?" said Pugh. "I think that would be great to be able to prevent something from happening."

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