Heart disease is one of the world’s biggest chronic health issues, but all too often problems go undetected until it is too late. What’s needed is a way for people to monitor their heart and other chronic conditions with minimum fuss to help diagnose problems at an early stage.
Singapore’s Ephone International has come up with a solution: EPI Life is the world’s first patented ECG measuring device integrated into a mobile phone. It also features a health suite, which monitors blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
The company unveiled the EPI Life mobile phone incorporating the ECG monitor and health suite last year, but at Mobile World Congress 2012 it also showed off the EPI Mini ECG device, which connects to a user’s smartphone via Bluetooth. The EPI Mini is expected to be commercially available in Q2 2012.
Both devices have three electrodes incorporated onto three sides of the device for ECG measurement. Fingers from one hand touch two of the electrodes on either side and two fingers from the other hand touch the contact on the bottom. That forms a circuit that can pick up the electric pulse sent out by the heart. Hold for 30 seconds and the reading is taken.
The ECG reading is then sent to an internet server via GPRS and received in a virtual electronic health folder by a doctor or cardiac technologist. If there are any problems, the doctor alerts the patient via SMS. Up to five registered users can employ the EPI Mini.
Ephone CEO Eric Loh, tells Wireless: ‘The first question everyone asks is: “how accurate is it”? We have done clinical studies and it is 98% accurate. Doctors have endorsed it and many Asian hospitals are now behind it, saying mobile health is the right way to go.’
The Health Science Authority of Singapore has cleared the devices for market sale and it is listed as an approved product on the Singapore Medical Device Register. Loh reports that integrating eHealth into mobile phones is definitely catching on in Asia, but not in Europe yet because of the regulatory approvals required.
‘We have put in a submission for CE approval in the EU and to the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) in the USA. We don’t know when we will get approval, but we hope it will be by the middle of this year,’ he says.
While already diagnosed people with a chronic disease are an obvious target for Ephone’s monitoring devices, the real market is those who are healthy, or believe they are, but who want to check and confirm that on a regular basis. Loh says: ‘It’s for those who are sick and those who do not want to be sick.’
For ‘healthy’ people the advantage is that if they do show signs of developing a health problem it will be picked up earlier when treatment is likely to be much more effective. Preventative medicine saves more lives, relieves the pressure on hard pressed health professionals in hospitals and reduces the cost of a country’s healthcare system.
‘We want to provide all the functions that will help a doctor get the information he is after,’ says Loh. ‘But I don’t believe the idea of monitoring lots of different symptoms on separate devices will work. People just don’t want to do that, so I think you need a simple device that measures all the symptoms quickly and sends the information off wirelessly to where a doctor can read the data.
‘If the doctor spots a development or can see that a treatment or medicine he has proscribed isn’t working, he can call and arrange to see you and change your medication. If you measure everything in one go and it all goes into an electronic folder it makes it easy and the patient will be prepared to do it. But if you don’t monitor yourself our system will alert the doctor who can remind you to do so,’ says Loh.
Another service Ephone has put together in Singapore is an on-call panel of doctors and multi-hospital tie-ups to enable a quick response and fast-track admissions if a heart problem is identified. This kind of fast response is vital in improving a patient’s chances of surviving. Ephone is looking to replicate this kind of arrangement around the world.
‘We have already started speaking to people in the UK,’ reports Loh. ‘We think these kinds of devices will take off in countries where a healthy quality of life is being promoted by governments and health agencies and is appreciated as a life style choice.’
Loh adds that we can expect to see new features added to the devices in 2012 and 2013.