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About Sickkids
About SickKids

February 20, 2014

Innovation: Graduate student designs fitness app for heart patients

By John Berwick

Adam McKillop, a graduate student working with Dr. Brian McCrindle, Director of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Unit at The Hospital for Sick Children, is developing an innovative new mobile app called SafeHeart. 

SafeHeart has been created for teenagers with congenital heart disease who tend to exercise less than their healthy peers.

The idea arose when McKillop noticed that patients coming into the Cardiology Clinic didn’t show much interest in the information they received about their condition. He also noticed that some of them came in with mobile devices and seemed more interested in their phones than in their appointments. This gave him food for thought. He approached McCrindle and together they came up with the idea to create a mobile app that would benefit the health of patients with congenital heart disease.

With the help of students from the University of Toronto and Ontario College of Art and Design, McKillop has been able to transform his innovative idea into reality. While he was working on the content for the app, his technical team developed the design, working side by side with SickKids to make sure they met the necessary criteria to brand the app as a SickKids innovation.

SafeHeart recommends customized physical activity options that take into account the patient’s condition. Because there is no universal list of what a patient with congenital heart disease can or cannot do in terms of physical activity, some patients may be apprehensive about physical exercise. Using an app like SafeHeart will help eliminate the uncertainty patients may have about exercise because they know it’s tailored for them.

“Even though some patients with congenital heart disease have no reason not to be physically active, they’re not. I think that may be because they’re not sure of what activities are safe,” says McKillop, who holds an undergraduate degree in Human Kinetics from the University of Guelph and completed his master in Exercise Science at the University of Toronto. He is currently doing his PhD studies at the Institute of Medical Science at U of T. 

In addition, SafeHeart allows the patient to track the intensity of the exercise using the built-in accelerometer, and can be used in conjunction with an external heart rate monitor to track the patient’s heart rate throughout the activity. As well, there is a built-in safety feature within the app. If patient are getting close to their maximum heart rate, they either get a vibratory or auditory alert through the device, indicating that they need to slow down or take a break.

When patients have completed the activity, the app compiles the measurements and sends them to the user and to the clinician who may address any concerns.

SafeHeart is currently in the prototype stage of development. While it is fully functional, it is not yet publicly available. McKillop and his team are preparing for usability testing this spring. They have received support from the Labatt Family Heart Centre and will recruit clinicians and patients to test the app. The feedback is expected to highlight what worked well and provide suggestions for future features.

Looking ahead, he sees that SafeHeart has the potential to benefit patients with other conditions. “Exercise is a constant intervention across all medical conditions when it comes to providing health benefits, and SafeHeart can be modified to serve patients others than those with congenital heart disease.” While the device is an exercise app at the moment, McKillop can also see it incorporating features like nutritional or medical information down the line.

He will present the app at the Labatt Family Heart Centre Family Education Day on April 26. He also plans to take it to eHealth 2014 in June and the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in October. The CCC is the largest gathering of cardiovascular and allied health professionals in Canada.

Other apps developed through SickKids

  • CALIPER, conceived by Dr. Khosrow Adeli, Senior Associate Scientist with the SickKids Research Institute and programmed by Shayanthan Parameswaran, Senior Developer with the Research IT Clinical Research Data Management Team. Caliper makes ranges of normal values for particular blood tests available in an easy to use smartphone interface for over 100 different tests that cover a broad range of diseases and medical conditions in children.
  • iScorEB (instrument for Scoring Clinical Outcomes for Research of Epidermolysis Bullosa), conceived by Dr. Elena Pope, Project Investigator with the SickKids Research Institute. iScorEB combines clinician observed health related items with patient relevant items like pain, mobility, and activities of daily living. The app assists in quantifying disease severity from both the clinician and patient perspective.
  • myIBD, conceived by Karen Frost, Nurse Practitioner of the Gastroenterology and Nutrition Clinic. myIBD is a free mobile app designed to empower teens and parents of young children with IBD (Inflammatory bowel disease).
  • Pain Squad, development led by Dr. Jennifer Stinson, Clinician Scientist, Clinical Nurse Specialist/NP. Pain Squad is an iPhone app that helps kids and teens with cancer track how intense their pain is, how long it lasts, where it hurts as well as what helps to treat it.
  • TnEcho, developed by Dr. Patrick McNamara, Staff Neonatologist at The Hospital for Sick Children and Dr. Afif EL-Khuffash of Mount Sinai Hospital. TnEcho is designed for staff and trainee neonatologists who are performing Targeted Neonatal Echocardiography (TnEcho), ultrasounds on the hearts of newborns that aid in clinical diagnosis.
  • TickIT, is a mobile app for interactive surveys that runs on an iPad. TickIT is currently being piloted at SickKids.
  • The Mobile Billing app allows the physician to capture billing at the point of care for clinic, inpatient and emergency patients. The app runs on all devices and is easy to use, simple and intuitive, allowing rapid capture of billing information. Mobile Billing provides significant benefits to the organization, which include improved resource allocation, physician satisfaction, and data quality along with increased physician billing.