SHL Telemedicine has announced the release of SmartHeart, a lightweight and portable device that they claim can take “hospital-grade” ECGs by “anyone, anywhere, anytime.” The device connects wirelessly to smartphones and can transmit the ECG to a physician for a preliminary diagnosis. The possibilities for a device like this are endless – but so are the questions it raises.
The device greatly streamlines the process of obtaining an ECG as it avoids the need to actually come in to a clinic and can be used to monitor high risk patients from their own homes. The smartphone can then transmit the ECG to an office or a hospital where health care professionals can examine them instantly. As cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US, a low-cost and easily used cardiovascular diagnostic device could have a huge impact on a sizeable part of the population. SmartHeart is set to cost $500, which is less than an iPhone itself.
However, a portable ECG device that anyone can supposedly use raises some major concerns. The first question is its practical application. For a patient to just have this at home implies that they are at high risk for cardiovascular events. Arrhythmias typically require continuous cardiac monitoring rather than a 10-second ECG, which this device does not appear to provide. So, is this device intended to replace a holter monitor, looking for arrhythmias or cardiac events, such as myocardial infarction ?
Furthermore, is it actually as good as hospital-grade ECGs? What is the margin for error in the operation of such a device, particularly when being used by patients potentially in distress? Finally, it is important to remember that an ECG is only one of many factors that physicians use in their diagnosis of myocardial infarction, arrhythmia, and other forms of heart disease. A device like SmartHeart may even delay in-person evaluation. It could alternatively also lower the barriers, psychological or otherwise, that prevent patients from seeking early evaluation when they have concerning symptoms.
In theory, SmartHeat could be a great way to diagnose heart disease before expensive complications arise. However, there are many questions yet to be answered about the validity and practicality of such an approach. Look for companies such as SHL Telemedicine to keep pushing innovation of similar devices that take advantage of affordable mobile technology, and also for academic studies to evaluate their efficacy.