appAn app that allows congestive heart failure patients to self-administer a walking stress test is just as effective as when the test is done in a clinic, according to new findings from a Health eHeart study

These results, from the first published study based on the Health eHeart data collection initiative, appeared in the Journal of the American Heart Association on Monday

Congestive heart failure affects 5.7 million patients each year and accounts for more than a million hospital admissions. The six-minute walk stress test independently predicts the severity of a patient’s disease as well as risk of hospitalization and premature death. However, requiring patients to travel to a clinic to perform the test — as has been traditionally done — can be a difficult process, especially for patients without transportation or who live far away.

Researchers led by Jeffrey Olgin, M.D., an investigator at the University at California at San Francisco, used data from the Health eHeart Study, which launched in 2013, to measure the effectiveness of their app.

During the study, patients carried smartphones and the app provided vocal prompts, while measuring how far and long the patients could continue walking. Researchers conducted the initial two phases of the study in-clinic, the first to measure accurate step-counting and the second to measure distance.

During the third phase, patients used the app at home and received text message reminders during a two-week period about how to use the app. Walk tests often were conducted in the patients’ home hallways. After the two weeks, patients returned to the clinic and the six-minute walk test was administered by clinic staff. The results were compared.

“This study is a good example of how Health eHeart data can be leveraged,” said Dr. Olgin. “It shows that we now have a tool that accurately measures a heart failure patient’s progress and we can get real-time information while the patient is at home. The Health eHeart Study is truly a resource that can expedite discovery.”

More than 21,000 men and women are involved in the Health eHeart Study. The study’s goal is to obtain real-time data from patients to better understand cardiovascular disease. Health eHeart, a collaboration between the American Heart Association and UCSF, seeks to enroll a million patients.

“Researchers can get multiple snapshots of a person’s heart disease in real time and this provides clinicians with a richer picture of their patients’ health. The technology and tools like the app in this study can improve the quality of care as well as advance our understanding of disease, “said Elliott Antman, MD, and last year’s AHA president.

Kathi Sigona, 66, of Modesto, California, enrolled in the study shortly after its launch to better understand her atrial fibrillation. She uses smartphone apps with sensors to capture heart rhythm measurements.

“Doctor visits tend to be only 15 minutes and you used to spend the time discussing vague symptoms,” she said. “Now I can go see my doctor armed with very specific information from the app that I use and adjustments can be made in my care. It’s changed my outlook on how to take care of myself. It’s real participatory medicine, which I think is the way of the future.