Apple Watch KardiaBand accessory shows it’s time for IoT in healthcare
Research appears to show that AliveCor's KardiaBand is capable of detecting hyperkalemia through a simple EKG, a feat that would previously have required an invasive blood test. 

Apple Watch KardiaBand accessory shows it’s time for IoT in healthcare

A new watch band from KardiaBand by AliveCor has received approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to carry out electrocardiography (EKG).

When the first commercial electrocardiography (EKG) devices were introduced over 100 years ago, they took up considerable space and often required patients to submerge their limbs in jars of salt solution.

A century later, EKG equipment has advanced to the point that it can be integrated into a smartwatch that’s capable of far more besides. AliveCor, the watch band’s creator, is alive to the healthcare opportunities that come with technological advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and electronics.

The Califonia-based company has just announced FDA approval for its device, making it the first sanctioned medical device accessory for Apple Watch and a milestone for IoT in healthcare. The KardiaBand is a replacement watch strap (and accompanying software) for the Apple Watch, containing an sensor module that can discretely capture the wearer’s EKG at any time.

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The KardiaBand smart accessory

The Apple Watch’s integrated heart-rate senor (a photoplethysmogram) uses green and infrared LEDs to measure your arteries expanding and contracting. This is limited to recording what happens after each heart beat. An EKG differs in that it can measure the electrical activity in your heart muscles, revealing a whole host of information on how the heart is behaving, including existing issues and past events.

A touch of the integrated sensor on the KardiaBand accessory triggers a 30 second EKG reading. The results from the Kardia App are then displayed on the Apple Watch.

AliveCor has also introduced SmartRhythm, a new feature that uses AI alongside data from the watch’s heart rate and activity sensors to constantly evaluate the correlation between heart activity and physical activity. When the feature detects that there are disparities between the two, it advises the user to capture an EKG.

“KardiaBand paired with SmartRhythm technology will be life-changing for people who are serious about heart health,” said Vic Gundotra, CEO at AliveCor. “These capabilities will allow people to easily and discreetly check their heart rhythms when they may be abnormal, capturing essential information to help doctors identify the issue and inform a clear path of care to help manage AFib, a leading cause of stroke, and other serious conditions.”

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Getting to the heart of IoT in healthcare

The most common heart arrhythmia and a leading cause of strokes, atrial fibrillation (AFib) affects over 30 million people worldwide. Many people are unknowingly living with AFib, yet two out of three strokes are preventable when AFib is detected and treated. There is therefore huge scope for accessible real-time monitoring solutions to help prevent major heart-related health issues.

Preventative measures that utilize IoT in healthcare not only stand to benefit the patient, they also go a long way to lowering costs for healthcare services. expensive treatments are avoided and hospital beds freed-up.

“This is a paradigm shift for cardiac care as well as an important advance in healthcare,” said Dr Karlsberg, Cardiologist and Clinical Professor of Medicine at Cedars Sinai Heart Institute and David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA. “Today, EKGs are available only in offices and hospitals, using complex equipment, and usually only after a life-threatening event, for example a stroke. With an EKG device on the wrist, AFib can be detected wherever the patient is, 24 hours a day.”

Existing mobile EKG products have limited lifetimes, are highly sensitive to proper placement, can be uncomfortable to use and are often invasive and expensive. For example, EKG patches and Holter monitors can only be worn for a very limited time and loop recorders require surgery to implant them.

KardiaBand is available from $199. A $99 annual subscription on top offers several optional extras. The service includes SmartRhythm notifications on Apple Watch, unlimited EKG recordings, email sharing, cloud history and reporting, weight and medication tracking, and a mailed monthly report on that period’s readings.

Read more: Healthcare’s three IoT pain points