The new-generation stethoscope wirelessly streams heart sounds to a smartphone app, which, in turn, can save those recorded beats to a patient’s electronic medical record. The record of a patient’s heartbeat can be viewed as a heart-sound wave form and shared via a secure link.
Call it a winter-spring romance: The oldest tool in a doctor’s kit — a stethoscope — meets the youngest — a smartphone. Together, they make (and hear, see, analyze and record) heartbeats race.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared for the U.S. market a digital stethoscope, the Eko Core, that aims to bring auscultation — the ancient medical practice of listening to a patient’s heartbeat — squarely into the 21st century.
The new-generation stethoscope wirelessly streams heart sounds to a smartphone app, which, in turn, can save those recorded beats to a patient’s electronic medical record. The record of a patient’s heartbeat can be viewed as a heart-sound wave form and shared via a secure link with a cardiologist offering a second opinion.
The mobile application that allows the transfer and visualization of the human heart’s whooshes, lubdubs, gallops and rubs is available on the Apple App Store. The device, the app and the Web platform built around it are all designed to be compliant with the comprehensive patient-privacy law called HIPAA.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- Everyone’s going to Hawaii, and the resorts aren’t ready
- The Earth is now trapping an 'unprecedented' amount of heat, NASA says
- Hacker known as Max is 55-year-old woman from Russia, U.S. says
- Camper shoots Idaho family's dog after mistaking her for a wolf
- GOP congressman refuses to shake hands with D.C. police officer who protected the Capitol on Jan. 6, lawmakers say
The Eko Core and its associated app are the inaugural offerings of a Silicon Valley startup founded by a team of University of California, Berkeley engineering and business school graduates. Eko Core’s three founders — 23-year-old chief operating officer Jason Bellet, 25-year-old CEO Connor Landgraf, and chief technical officer, 23-year-old Tyler Crouch — are thought to be the youngest team ever to receive FDA clearance for a Class II medical device.
For health-care professionals of their generation, a stethoscope that streams, records, analyzes and facilitates collaboration may be the most obvious thing in the world. But perhaps a physician prefers to listen to his patients’ hearts old-school? The new stethoscope can be shifted from digital to analog.
The first stethoscope was designed in 1819, and when it comes to such central medical traditions, physicians can be arch traditionalists: They tend to love the stethoscope they trained with and keep it as a talisman. These users have the option of add only the digital stethoscope attachment to their existing analog stethoscopes.
The new-generation stethoscope “captures the heart sounds in a streamlined way that has never been done before, interfacing seamlessly into our traditional exam without requiring any extra effort,” said Dr. John Chorba, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco’s Department who is leading an ongoing clinical trial of the Eko device.
At 34, Chorba said he’s old-school enough that he prefers not to use such features of the Eko Core as amplification. But, he added, “there are many times I would like to be able to re-listen to a patient’s heartbeat, and this gives me an opportunity to do that.”
Internal medicine residents at Stanford University’s Department of Medicine will be the first group of users to wield the new stethoscope as part of an ongoing institutional pilot.
Eko is also developing a “decision support algorithm” to help physicians interpret what they hear, and to pick out abnormal heart sounds and murmurs. Called “Shazam for Heartbeats,” the digital physician’s aid will be included with the mobile app after undergoing a separate FDA review and completing trials.
By all appearances, the technological assistance couldn’t come too soon. Just this week, a study presented at the European College of Cardiology’s annual meeting found that cardiologists were unable to identify more than half of basic and about a third of advanced murmurs when they listened to them on prerecorded tapes.
The 1,098 heart specialists were hardly slackers: Study participants were recruited between 2011 and 2014 at the American College of Cardiology’s annual scientific sessions. Yet, fewer than half could recognize prerecorded murmurs that signal aortic stenosis, aortic regurgitation, mitral stenosis or mitral regurgitation. They were a little better at identifying advanced murmurs associated with bicuspid aortic valve, mitral valve prolapse, combined aortic stenosis and regurgitation, and combined mitral stenosis and regurgitation.
“These findings confirm the widely held view that auscultation skills among cardiologists have eroded over time,” said Dr. Patrick O’Gara, past-president of the American College of Cardiology and a co-investigator on the study.
But the study also found that training that connected the recorded sounds to images helped. When physicians listened to 400 repetitions of each murmur while viewing cardiac images (including sound-wave forms) associated with those murmurs, they brought up their ability to recognize the basic murmurs to 88 percent and the advanced murmurs to 93 percent.
“For medical education purposes, it’s a great device,” Chorba said. “It can record heart sounds and allow us as teachers to identify what we hear and play it to students in a classroom setting.” More speculatively, Chorba said he was excited by the prospect that so much data about heartbeats will be collected digitally, and may one day yield new clues about the heart’s workings and its pathologies.
The digital stethoscope attachment that can be used to upgrade an existing analog stethoscope will be sold for $199. The Eko Core will also be sold pre-attached to an analog stethoscope for $299. Older digital stethoscopes have been priced between $500 and $800.