Earlier this month a US patent was published from Apple. It describes a wearable wrist band that can record an ECG (your heart rhythm) as you go about your everyday life. Given Apple’s habit of wholly disrupting tech markets (the iWatch notwithstanding), will ECG recording be the first medtech market that Apple disrupts?
Currently available consumer fitness monitors, like the FitBit collecting dust in your drawer, do not record ECGs. This is for the simple reason that an ECG read needs a whole-body circuit and that can’t be accomplished with one device on your wrist. Apple’s device records your ECG when you place a finger from the opposite hand on the wrist band, metal plates on the band complete the whole-body circuit necessary to make an ECG read. The technology isn’t complicated, the trick lies in the algorithms present in the device to differentiate between normal and abnormal heart rhythm.
At this point you might be thinking that this is Apple’s first step to destroying medtech. They have a few apps like ResearchKit and CareKit and acquired Gliimpse, a personal health data platform, so Apple does have a software platform to start collecting data from hardware (i.e. a wearable). ECG readings are a routine part of hospital care and millions of people are prescribed ECG monitoring devices each year to help doctors diagnose arrhythmias outside a healthcare setting. In general, these ambulatory devices are composed of a recording unit you can clip onto your belt with three electrode leads that stick onto your torso. Newer monitors get rid of pesky leads by miniaturizing the whole set up into a palm sized patch adhered the chest. Physicians want fast, frequent and simple ways to monitor their patients’ ECGs, surely Apple can deliver?
The thing is, there is already a device that meets this market need. AliveCor’s Kardia Patch sticks to the back of a smartphone and it measures a pretty accurate ECG when held with both hands. The user then e-mails it to their physician. Physicians love this device, some recommend their patient buy the $99 phone patch and send them ECG emails whenever they feel symptoms. Over the next few months AliveCor will get FDA approval for the Kardia Band, a strap attachment for the iWatch that finally brings ECG recording into the wearables market.
Apple’s device is expected to launch in the US in 2017, likely after the Kardia Band is approved. According to the patent, the Apple device doesn’t offer any benefits over AliveCor. Not to mention that these wearable devices do not continuously record your ECG; they only do so when you activate the device. Devices that use electrode cables or a skin patch can record every heartbeat, generating a bevy of data that physicians need. Therefore, with the available information, it seems that Apple is not poised to destroy this medtech market.
DRG will be publishing an all new report this fall: US Ambulatory ECG Monitoring. It will provide quantitative insight on patient populations prescribed these monitoring devices, the types of monitoring used, outsourcing vs insourcing revenues, and market shares. Discover how your company fits into this diverse market and what opportunities – or threats – await you.