Monday, March 31, 2014

Follow Your Heart on a Smartphone

Yes, it is possible for you to follow your heart on a smartphone.  And we are not talking about the heart of metaphors and symbolism.  We are talking about the real deal, that vital human organ whose maladies require treatment in the U.S. that runs in excess of $440 billion per year (CDC Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at a Glance). Monitoring your heart, or at least its electrical activity, is now possible with over-the-counter, FDA approved, EKG devices that work in conjunction with a smartphone.

The humble electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG for short) has long been valued for its ability to measure the electrical activity in the human heart.  From EKG readings a physician can learn a lot about the health of your heart and detect a broad range of coronary health problems.  While best known as a test administered at a medical office or facility by a healthcare professional, portable and hand-held EKG testing devices for at-home use have actually been around a long time.  Some of these at-home devices even provide internet and smartphone connectivity that allow recorded EKG results to be stored electronically and transmitted to a user's physician. 

While EKG devices with internet and smartphone connectivity have actually been available for some time, up until recently consumers could not access these devices without a doctor's prescription.  That barrier has come down.  In recent years two innovative, smartphone compatible EKG products have earned FDA approval for over-the-counter distribution.  One is made by San Francisco based AliveCor.  The AliveCor Health Monitor fits like a phone case and works in conjunction with a mobile app for select iOS and Android smarthphones.  Holding your enabled phone as instructed will yield EKG results that are stored for the user for future reference or can be accessed by a user's physician through the user's AliveCor account dashboard.  The AliveCor Heart Monitor currently costs $199 and the mobile apps are free.  For an additional charge, a user can have his or her EKG results analyzed by experts who are U.S. board certified cardiologists or U.S. based cardiac technicians.


Another FDA approved, mobile-enabled EKG device is ECG Check, a product manufactured by Utah-based Cardiac Designs.   ECG Check works in conjunction with a mobile app on select iPhones.  It too fits like a case on an iPhone and, when held as instructed, will yield EKG results that can be stored and, if desired, shared with your physician.  Currently priced at $99, for an additional charge your EKG results can be submitted for independent review by qualified technicians.  The OTC version of ECG Check takes a full EKG reading, but only displays select parts of it to the user.  It will, however, tell you if you're readings are normal or abnormal.  To have full EKG readings displayed and additional reporting made available, a doctor's prescription is required.  The OTC version of ECG Check can be readily upgraded to a prescription version.  In either OTC or prescription mode, ECG Check stores the results and supports distribution of those results to your physician or submission of EKG results for independent review.

Although available over-the-counter, consumers should understand that these particular products, while clinically accurate at what they do, are not replacements for the EKG one gets at a physicians office or in a hospital.  Some physicians have embraced these over-the-counter EKG devices that integrate with smartphones as they facilitate more efficient monitoring and managing of their patients, even if these devices are not quite on par with conventional EKG equipment.  Many physicians are taking a "wait and see" approach toward these devices.  Over-the-counter, smartphone enabled, EKG devices are a fairly new entrant in the remote heart monitoring arena.  As innovative telemedicine companies continue to refine and enhance the capabilities of these products, patient-administered EKG tests via a smartphone device will likely become an increasingly valuable tool in cardiac care.

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