Californian startup Eko Devices has developed a stethoscope attachment and mobile app that enable physicians to compare a patient’s heart sounds with a database in order to detect cardiovascular problems.
Has modern technology, which has recently begun to enhance a whole range of medical instruments, finally caught up with the stethoscope? A study published recently in the Global Heart medical review by researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York announces the imminent replacement of this classic piece of medical equipment by more reliable and sophisticated technologies based on ultra-sound. Meanwhile a California-based company called Eko Devices has come up with a way to modernise the traditional stethoscope, by adding an attachment that amplifies and transmits a patient’s heartbeat so that it can be recorded and compared with other patients’ records in medical databases. In developing the new stethoscope attachment, the Eko Devices team are aiming for nothing less than a drastic reduction in the number of cases where heart failure or other cardiovascular conditions go undetected. Given that not all doctors are trained in cardiology, being able to record a patient’s heartbeat with Eko’s device should provide a more advanced approach to diagnosing cardiac problems.
The Eko Devices system – the attachment plus app – is in fact a fairly simple extension of the traditional instrument. However its main advantage lies in the fact that rather than relying solely on the doctor’s hearing ability, which may be affected by such factors as age, experience and fatigue, it provides a dual approach. Firstly, the amplification system is designed to enable easier detection of heart murmurs during patient examination, and secondly the app enables what the stethoscope ‘hears’ to be visualised and recorded on a mobile device. The amplifier links by Bluetooth connection with the doctor’s iPhone, and the app then enables the data to be stored in Eko’s database and compared with existing data – the patient’s own record or other recordings of heart sounds previously diagnosed – or sent off to a cardiologist for a second opinion. “We’re innovating a really old technology that every doctor has and uses, and by simply purchasing our attachment, they’ll be able to have a much more productive device,” explained Jason Bellet, head of business development at Eko Devices.
Simplifying procedures, de-congesting the system
Eko’s seemingly simple invention may well have wide implications for the medical profession and patients. Connor Landgraf, Eko Devices founder and CEO, points out that many general practitioners are unable to diagnose an anomaly in a heartbeat with today’s stethoscope. “The result is that on the one hand a huge number of individuals with heart conditions are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all and, on the other, that health care practitioners are referring far too many people to cardiologists unnecessarily,” he argues. The Eko device should therefore serve both to improve physicians’ diagnostic ability, with positive outcomes for the well-being of patients, and at the same time help ease congestion in the cardiac field of medicine. The company currently has a non-functioning prototype of its device, but is expecting, if the product receives the necessary authorisations from the US Federal Food and Drug Administration, to launch the stethoscope accessory on to the market by the end of the year, priced at around $100. In light of the long-term moves to establish a public medical database, this innovation could well become an essential part of the modern medical toolkit, just as the traditional stethoscope was in the past.