Tweet This: Digital Health a Research Priority for Emergency Cardiac Care, AHA Says

The usefulness of social media and digital strategies within healthcare may be old news to many within the cardiology community, but a new statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) outlines several contemporary studies showing how mobile devices, visual sharing, and crowdsourcing can contribute to greater awareness, improved education, and ultimately better outcomes in emergency cardiovascular care.

Take Home. Tweet This: Digital Health a Research Priority for Emergency Cardiac Care, AHA SaysThe term “digital strategies” encompasses quite a lot these days—a core group of cardiologists reliably live-tweet every large conference, mobile apps and public kiosks teach CPR to anyone who wants to learn, and data from wearable technology like step trackers and heart rate monitors are increasingly being integrated into clinical practice. However, nothing is standardized and physicians are often caught in the middle of too many options and not enough guidance.

Written by John S. Rumsfeld, MD, PhD (University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver), and colleagues and published online June 22, 2016, ahead of print in Circulation, the AHA statement represents the realization that digital strategies are not “just a toy” but are now being recognized as “serious tool[s] in medicine,” according to Pascal Meier, MD (University College London Hospitals, England), one of cardiology’s most prolific Twitter users.

Meier, who was not involved in the writing committee, told TCTMD that digital health has “a lot of critics, . . . but it's certainly always good to have progress and new opportunities.” According to Meier, the biggest concern with digital information is that it can potentially overwhelm or distract physicians and it is subject to confidentiality breaches. “The risk is really that we don’t use it appropriately,” he said, adding that physicians need to be “disciplined” about it.

For Christian Assad, MD, a digital health innovator who is currently in private practice in McAllen, TX, the AHA statement is too little, too late. “We’re moving too slowly, that’s what happening,” he told TCTMD. “This statement should have . . . been released 4 or 5 years ago.” But the problem lies not with the invention of new technology, but rather with its implementation, Assad added.  

“In medicine, we are putting so many restrictions on these amazing technologies,” thus limiting their expansion, he said. Successfully integrating digital health options into daily practice will require “a whole different breed of thinkers” than who are involved now, Assad added. 

Pointing out that even Andreas Gruentzig, MD, who many consider to be the patriarch of interventional cardiology, was considered to be “a mad scientist” when he initially proposed balloon angioplasty, Assad said that every “good invention [in cardiology] was considered to be ridiculous at one point in time.” Digital strategies are now on the precipice of being integrated into standard practice so long as the healthcare community remains open minded, he observed.  

Only Research Proves Efficacy

The AHA statement specifically looks at research related to mobile devices, social media, visual media, and crowdsourcing. Despite listing several positive studies that have shown improvements in emergency cardiac care, Rumsfeld and colleagues write that much more research is needed to prove effectiveness and safety as would be done for “more traditional medical therapies and interventions.”

Mitigating the potential for dispersal of inaccurate information, confidentiality breaches, and higher costs should also be a target for researchers of these technologies, they add.

The authors also acknowledge the “rapidly evolving field” and predict that “this scientific statement will likely need frequent updating to reflect the current state of the science for digital strategies and [emergency cardiovascular and cerebrovascular care].”

Speaking to the topic of social media specifically, Meier said its main advantage is that it can spread news easily and in real time. In the past, “people had to buy books and read books, and there was a long delay between [discovering a] scientific advantage and getting the message out there to professional communities and to the lay community,” he said.

Social media is also “finally bring[ing] doctors together,” Assad said, using the example of physician uproar over the American Board of Internal Medicine’s Maintenance of Certification (MOC) requirements as proof that new technology is uniting the healthcare community.

But ultimately, he agreed, “you need the research to prove something is effective.”

The paper suggests more than 20 questions as targets for future investigators interested in this field. If answered, “digital strategies could realize their potential as disruptive innovations in healthcare that directly translate into improved healthcare delivery and patient outcomes,” the authors conclude.





  • Rumsfeld JS, Brooks SC, Aufderheide TP, et al.  Use of mobile Devices, social media, and crowdsourcing as digital strategies to improve emergency cardiovascular care: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2016;Epub ahead of print.




  •  Rumsfeld, Meier, and Assad report no relevant conflicts of interest.


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