At the Apple launch last week, the jumbo-sized iPhone XS Max, overshadowed the 4th generation Apple Watch -- almost. The watch attracted attention, because, in a first for Apple, a health tracking wearable had morphed into a medical device. It did this by adding the functionality of an electro cardiograph or ECG machine, albeit a single lead device, rather a 12 lead-system that hospitals use. Apple uses the ECG sensor to judge if the wearer's heart was beating normally. It sends a notification if an irregular heart rhythm is detected.
More usefully, the watch knows if the wearer has fallen down. It sends the user an alert which can be dismissed or used to initiate a call to emergency services. If Apple Watch senses immobility for 60 seconds, it will automatically call emergency services. Typical of Apple to tweak an existing function to make it vastly more user-friendly!
To loud applause at the launch event, Apple COO Jeff Williams said, "This is the first ECG product offered over the counter, directly to consumers." Not true. Thanks to Indian innovation, we know of at least 2 products where anyone can take an ECG, of acceptable quality, without the intervention of a trained medical person.
On June 11, we had reviewed the t-band from the Hyderabad-based Smartron, at Rs 4999 the first smartwatch in India, which measured heart rate, blood pressure and captured an ECG trace.
The picture describes a handy home ECG device that comes from a reputed Indian medical products company.
But a larger question remains, are ECG traces meaningful in the hands of a patient? Doctors use ECG to measure the electrical activity of the heartbeat to find out if the heart is overworked or enlarged. The hospital ECG machines use 12 leads to send a tiny electrical signal through the heart to detect any problems. Interpretation is an expert's job -- but the thinking today, is that if a cardiac episode is captured as it occurs, it is more valuable than one obtained some hours later -- the time it takes to reach a clinic. When I WhatsApped the trace captured by the t-band to my doctor, he said it was good enough to judge if I had suffered a heart attack or not.
Today's wearables can measure, pulse rate, blood pressure and increasingly, record an ECG. Lay users may not be able to make much of this. But thanks to technology and zippy communications, we can reach it to a doctor and gain that crucial gift of time, they call the Golden Hour.
Bless my heart!
BPL makes popular brands of hospital ECG machines - in addition to a range of other medical equipment. They have now shrunk the basic functions into a handy portable tool, called the Life Phone, that can be used by laypersons, the new edition, Life Phone Plus, is now available online from e-commerce sites. It is a palm-sized device that measures 12-lead ECG, blood glucose, heart rate, as well as steps are taken and calories burnt.
For starters, this is not something you would wear all the time like a watch. But it is the closest to a full function ECG that I have seen. Having paired with a phone app, you need to be seated comfortably and then to place it at four spots on your chest for a few seconds at a time. An accompanying video makes the procedure very clearly. There are no electrodes, no need to smear gel -- and if you subscribe, you get your records stored in the cloud and a physician to analyse and give advice round the clock. Life Phone Plus costs Rs 17,999. (You can get it without the glucometer, for a few thousand rupees less).
Perchance to dream
How many of us can honestly say we enjoy a good night's sleep -- regularly? There are the neighbourhood noise and the polluted air -- and then there are the worries and tensions of our own lives. Shakespeare called sleep the 'balm of hurt minds' -- it's a balm we could really use.
A young Indian researcher at the University of Washington in the US -- and the winner last week of the Marconi Young Scholar Award -- Rajalakshmi Nandakumar -- has been researching sleep and the disorder known as sleep apnea for 5 years. Apnea solutions involved strapping on sensors and connecting wires -- till now.
Rajalakshmi has created what is arguably the first contactless solution; and she did it using a smartphone and its loudspeaker system, to beam inaudible sound signals at the sleeping subject, much like a sonar system to detect activities like movement and respiration.
The result of her PhD work has been licensed to a medical solutions company, ResMed, who have put out a free app "SleepScore" for Android and iPhone that helps individuals to monitor their sleep quality.
It's not a cure in itself -- but it's the first step to sound sleep. Sweet dreams!