Coming Soon: A Hospital-Quality EKG On Your Smartphone

Instead of spending time hooked up to an expensive machine at the hospital, a number of phones will monitor your heart for you, and alert the doctor if anything is going wrong.

Coming Soon: A Hospital-Quality EKG On Your Smartphone
The doctor is calling to tell you you’re flatlining. Flickr user digitalnoise

Your smartphone can already monitor your glucose levels and your blood pressure. The next step, naturally, is the ability to monitor heart rate and check for abnormal heart rhythms. Soon enough, heart patients may be able to eschew hospital electrocardiograms for cheap, hospital-quality smartphone devices that do the same thing. These gadgets have the potential to drastically change health care for heart patients.


If you’ve ever been to a hospital (or seen a medical drama on TV), you have probably seen an EKG machine monitor the electrical activity of a patient’s heart. The machines are the gold standard for detecting heart arrhythmia–they’re effective, real time, and offer quantitative analysis. The only problem is that there’s a limit to how much time insurance companies and Medicare will tolerate a patient being hooked up to one of these devices. Patients don’t appreciate being attached to monitoring devices, either. But what happens if an arrhythmia that’s undetectable in the hospital becomes apparent when a patient comes home?

Over the past month, I’ve been testing the AliveCor iPhone ECG, an iPhone case that offers real-time EKG readings. The pre-FDA approved device, which is currently undergoing a clinical trial with the USC Center for Body Computing, monitors a patient’s heartbeat whenever they open up the app and place the case (pictured) in their hands or on their chest for 30-second intervals. The information is then sent off into the cloud, where a patient’s doctor can access it and look for abnormalities. The AliveCor ECG is a no-brainer to use, and it’s a sturdy iPhone case, too. The case will cost less than $100 when it’s released.

AliveCor’s ECG may be the ultimate cheap solution for monitoring heart arrhythmia. But the CardioDefender, an FDA-approved, smartphone-based ECG from Everist Genomics, offers around-the-clock arrhythmia detection–no patient input required. The CardioDefender consists of electrodes attached to a patient’s skin, a Bluetooth device that collects the heart data, and smartphone software that analyzes the information and sends it to a cardiac monitoring center for physician review.

Portable ECG recorders [i.e the AliveCor case] are useful, explains Alex Charlton, executive vice-chairman of Everist Genomics, but “they sample the heart rhythm as opposed to continuous monitoring. An irregular heart rhythm could be missed.”

Unlike AliveCor, Everist has no plans to launch its device to the general public. The CardioDefender has already been deployed in over 150 U.S. medical institutions in the past year, however. “Physicians will buy it for a block of time like a cell-phone contract,” says Charlton. After a small deposit (less than $500), doctors pay between $100 and $500 per week to use the device.

Devices like the AliveCor case and the CardioDefender may seem, at first glance, to be a burden upon physicians. After all, slogging through mounds of patient data would appear to be a timesuck. But that’s not the case at all, according to Dr. Leslie Saxon, the founder of the USC Center for Body Computing. Wirelessly connected medical devices use sophisticated AI and analytics that allow doctors to “take care of more people better with less pain,” Saxon recently explained to Co.Exist. ” If 900 patients are fine, you can focus on those 10 who aren’t. Who doesn’t want to do that?”

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.