Grab a cart, check your heart. Some shoppers are getting health exams while inspecting fruit and selecting cereal. Soon grocery-carts-turned-heart-monitors could be roaming an aisle near you.
When God instructs Christians to “keep your heart” because “springs of life” flow from it, He’s warning about guarding one’s spiritual being. (Proverbs 4:23) But it’s not hard to imagine that the Creator wants humans to keep their physical hearts in good form too—so that they can serve Him and others well!
Atrial fibrillation (a-fib) is an irregular, often rapid heart rhythm. It can cause poor blood flow or even blood clots.
The American Heart Association estimates that over 40 million people worldwide have a-fib. Some people experience no symptoms at all until they have a major health incident.
Doctors say early detection and diagnosis are vital for controlling a-fib—since left untreated, it can increase stroke risk.
English cardiac nurse and nursing professor Ian Jones and his colleagues conducted an experiment involving 10 grocery carts. The carts were altered to track information like that gathered in an echocardiogram (ECG). ECG-equipped carts are meant to help identify shoppers with a-fib.
For two months, the carts rolled around four Liverpool-area supermarkets. Each cart had sensors in its handle. The sensors detected heart rhythms as shoppers pushed the carts.
The trials involved over 2,100 adult shoppers. Volunteers gripped the cart handles for at least 60 seconds.
If the sensor detected signs of a-fib, a red cross flashed on the handle. A green checkmark meant no sign of a-fib. All study participants also had an in-person pulse check—just to be sure the handle hadn’t missed a problem.
For anyone receiving a red cross, an in-store pharmacist did an additional screening. All shoppers seeing red also had their results reviewed by a cardiologist.
Anyone with confirmed a-fib received a doctor’s appointment. Researchers allowed those with unclear readings to repeat the process if desired.
During the trial, 220 participants flashed red for a-fib. Of those, 59 ended up having the condition.
Jones’ team says the grocery cart approach needs more work. About 20% of the ECGs taken were unclear—possibly because of hand movement along the handles. Jones also notes that the method tends to over-diagnose problems.
Still, most experts view the grocery cart ECG technology as a positive effort. It makes healthcare more accessible to more people—especially those who can’t afford other options.
Research assistant Emily McGinn helped with the study. She sees value in helping even just a few people. “So that they can get the necessary treatment,” she says.
Why? Advances in health diagnosis and treatment that help a wide population are worth pursuing and celebrating!