AliveCor has developed a mobile phone case with embedded sensors that enable patients or their doctors to obtain an electrocardiogram reading within seconds. The AliveCor Heart Monitor device can be used in an emergency situation or for preventive monitoring.

AliveCor offers an iPhone case that takes ECG readings

In the United States around 600,000 people a year die from cardiac arrest. Every year some 715,000 Americans suffer a heart attack, of whom 525,000 are experiencing their first seizure, while the remaining 190,000 will have already suffered one previously. It would seem obvious therefore that heart attack victims need to monitor their heart rhythms, whether in order to alleviate any undue anxiety or as part of the prevention process. At the present time, if they want their heart rate monitored, their only option is to go to their doctor or to a hospital. This solution is costly for the US healthcare system and may waste both the patient’s and the doctor’s time. Dan Sullivan, President and CEO of AliveCor, a San Francisco-based startup, points out that physicians sometimes waste a lot of time with anxious patients. “A doctor may see 40 patients a day, of whom perhaps only 20 really need to consult him.” The others are in good shape but simply want to check that everything is fine. And this is something they could now do just as easily from home. AliveCor’s Heart Monitor consists of an iPhone case with two embedded electrodes. Placing your fingertips on the electrodes gives you an electrocardiogram reading. This device can be used by doctors or independently by patients themselves, either in emergency situations or as part of their regular health monitoring.

Preventive monitoring and emergencies  

All you have to do is place your fingers on the case  of your iPhone and you immediately obtain your ECG reading on your smartphone screen. The data, stored in a cloud-based server, can then be accessed from any device. Patients who have recently suffered a heart attack can have the device prescribed by their doctor, so that they can monitor their heart rate from home. “Patients are often highly stressed during their appointment with their doctor,” explains Dan Sullivan, “and sometimes, because of this, doctors prescribe too heavy a dose of treatment. If the patient does an ECG test regularly from home, in comfortable surroundings, the results should be more accurate.” As well as remote monitoring, AliveCor can also be useful in real emergency situations. Rob, a nephrologist, swears by his AliveCor monitor. “I always have it with me, just in case someone has an attack, on public transport, for example,” he explains. For example, if someone has a heart attack during an airplane flight – which already occurred – he has a device equivalent to a piece of hospital equipment in his pocket. Using the AliveCor Heart Monitor he can immediately assess the seriousness of the situation, and decide whether he should request the pilot to land the plane at the nearest airport or whether it’s safe to wait until it reaches its scheduled destination. In either case, as soon as the plane lands, he can send the electrocardiogram to the hospital where the patient will be admitted.

Towards increased ubiquity

This cutting edge monitoring device was cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration in November 2012 for sale to licensed medical practitioners and prescribed patients. So at the moment, the AliveCor Heart Monitor is only available for the use of physicians, and the case is only available to the general public on a doctor’s prescription, to a patient who will then be given training on how to use it. However, in the near future, it should be on sale without prescription, meaning that anyone will then potentially have an ECG at their fingertips. One of the main thrusts of AliveCor activity is standardization as, for the moment, the ECG data is only available in AliveCor format, in the cloud. The startup’s aim is now to have all barriers to the flow of data removed so that the various healthcare providers involved in a patient’s treatment can integrate the ECG data into their patient monitoring systems. The technology, which for the moment can only be embedded into iPhone 4 and 4S cases, will soon be available with cases for other smartphones, and it can also in practice be incorporated into almost any device or object. That would appear to be where the future of the health sector lies. Everyone will be able to monitor his/her health, anywhere, anytime.  The AliveCor Heart Monitor will soon also be available in Europe. 

By Alice Gillet
English editorial manager