The Avatar That Helps People Recognize Heart Attack Symptoms

It sounds surprising, but estimates suggest that roughly half of people who have had a heart attack, didn’t actually realize they were having one.  These so called silent heart attacks are only diagnosed after the event, but of course early detection is vital to successful treatment.

A new study from Flinders University, Australia, utilizes an avatar-based application to help people better understand the symptoms of a heart attack, and to then get the help they need.  When the app was tested, users were more likely to call for an ambulance when they detected symptoms, which subsequently resulted in fewer hospital admissions.

“Most deaths from heart attacks occur within the first few hours of symptom onset,” the researchers say. “The death rate can be halved by getting patients to hospital more quickly. Delays occur mainly because patients don’t recognise symptoms or know to call an ambulance.”

Virtual nurse

The SAVE app2 uses a virtual avatar in the shape of a nurse, who is called Cora.  Cora aims to teach users about the various heart attack warning signs and symptoms, and also what they should do when these symptoms occur.  It comes in four main parts:

  1. A heart attack warning sign quiz
  2. A library of the signs and symptoms, and insight into the most common ones in both men and women
  3. Insight into what you should do when having a heart attack
  4. A test to gauge your knowledge

In early tests of an admittedly tiny sample, the app improved users ability to recognize symptoms and respond accordingly.  This was sufficient encouragement to prompt a larger, randomized control trial.

The results of this trial have recently been presented, and revealed similar results to the initial trial.  70 heart attack survivors were allocated to the app, plus a control group who were using traditional interventions.  Each user followed the intervention for six months.

The intervention was measured according to both knowledge of symptoms/responses and ambulance use and hospitalisation incidences during and after the study period.  The results revealed that app users were twice as likely to call the ambulance after symptoms occurred, yet despite this spent roughly half as long in hospital because of heart problems than those in the control group.

Greater confidence

The results are impressive as both groups began the experiment with a similar level of knowledge, both of symptoms and the correct response.  The app users revealed however that they felt considerably more confident in recognizing heart attack symptoms and the most effective response to them.

“Our study shows that patients using an avatar-based app are more likely to call emergency if they have heart attack symptoms and spend less time in hospital. A larger trial is needed to see if this translates into quicker treatment and increased survival,” the author says.

“Nurses have limited time to provide discharge education and often encounter literacy and language barriers. This avatar app will be an essential tool to help overcome these difficulties. The pictures do not require patients to read, and we are translating the content so that Cora speaks 144 languages,” they continue.