Seeing the latest smartphone makes some people's hearts beat faster. Now there's an app that can hear them.
The app, from a company called Eko Devices, works with a device that attaches to a standard analog stethoscope. Via the Bluetooth Low Energy protocol, the Eko adapter sends the audio from the stethoscope to the doctor's phone or tablet for recording, viewing, analysis and sharing. The six-person company demonstrated its product at the Demo Enterprise conference in San Francisco Thursday.
Digitizing the heart and lung sounds that a stethoscope picks up allows doctors to view them as waveforms, giving them another tool to detect potential ailments. Digital stethoscopes have been on the market for years, but Eko's accessory allows doctors who prefer traditional analog devices to bring them into the digital age.
The Eko pairs automatically with the doctor's smartphone and digitizes the audio signals that the stethoscope picks up, streaming them to the phone for use in the Eko app. With the app, the doctor can view the waveforms from the stethoscope in real time, record a few seconds and play it back slow or fast, and send the captured data out for analysis.
"Their goal is to listen to that heart and determine if there's anything that warrants further investigation," said Eko founder and CEO Connor Landgraf. If something sounds wrong, the doctor can forward the sounds and waveforms to another physician for a virtual second opinion or send it to Eko's data center, where the company uses algorithms to detect specific irregularities such as heart murmurs.
After Eko uses its algorithms and database to analyze the data, it sends a report back to the doctor. Only the physician can make a diagnosis, but Eko's report is "clinical decision support" to help the doctor come to a conclusion, Landgraf said.
The app encrypts the audio data both while it resides on the phone and when it's being transmitted, meeting the requirements of U.S. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations, according to Landgraf. Each user of the app has to have their own login and password, which allows for tracking of who's seen the information, and there are backups in case the primary data is lost, also in line with HIPAA, he said.
With an expected price around US$100 to $150, an Eko may be less expensive than a typical digital stethoscope, which can cost $200 or more. But according to Landgraf, there's another reason some doctors would rather add the company's adapter to the traditional analog version: It still looks like a stethoscope. Having that recognizable instrument around their necks makes doctors look like doctors.
"No one wants to be the doctor wearing the weird-looking stethoscope," Landgraf said.
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