Feasibility of digital atrial fibrillation screening in an elderly population: The Ulm heart rhythm weeks

Ralf Birkemeyer*, Laura Maisch, Tillman Dahme, Jochen Spieß, Katharina Althaus, Steffen Schneider, Ursula Ravens, Doreen Haase, Ulrich Schotten

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


AIMS: Atrial fibrillation (AF) screening in risk populations has the potential to prevent strokes. The authors tested the feasibility of a digital program with initial photoplethysmographic (PPG) self-screening and cardiologist-attended electrocardiographic (ECG) confirmation of screen-positive cases.

METHODS: Inhabitants of the city of Ulm aged ≥ 65 years were invited to participate. After digital consent, participants were given access to a smartphone application for 14 days of self-screening (two recordings per day recommended). Screen-positive participants without known AF were invited to present to a cardiologist for AF confirmation with a 14-day ECG event recorder. PPG recordings were first analyzed by algorithm using a combination of linear and non-linear methods. The quality of pathological (classified by algorithm) PPG and all ECG recordings were checked by a telecare service. Primary outcomes included adherence to the screening protocol defined as the proportion of participants performing at least 14 PPG recordings (or until documentation of absolute arrhythmia) and the proportion of pathological PPG and all ECG recordings rejected by the telecare center.

RESULTS: A total of 215 participants registered. Of these, 204 (95%) performed at least one recording and 169 (79%) reached the performance target of two sufficient measurements per day; 75 PPG recordings were automatically classified as pathological by algorithm; 14 (19%) were rejected by the telecare service due to poor quality. Of the 12 participants with a suspected first diagnosis of AF, five visited a cardiologist as part of the study. Of 1090 ECG recordings obtained, 390 (36%) were qualified as non-diagnostic. AF was confirmed in three cases.

CONCLUSIONS: A digital AF screening program with initial self-screening and referral of screen-positive cases to a cardiologist-attended ECG-confirmation service is feasible with meaningful results in an elderly risk population. However, the availability of the target population of persons > 65 years of age for such a digital screening program appears to be limited despite extensive public relations activities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-352
Number of pages7
JournalHerzschrittmachertherapie und Elektrophysiologie
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • Aged
  • Atrial Fibrillation/diagnosis
  • Electrocardiography
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Photoplethysmography


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