On February 10, 2014 AliveCor, Inc. announced that its heavily validated personalmobile ECG monitor had received FDA over-the counter clearance. Previously the device, which allows recording of a single-lead ECG and, in conjunction with a free smart-phone app, can diagnose atrial fibrillation was only available by prescription.
Since 2013, I have been successfully using this device with my patients who have atrial fibrillation (and writing about it extensively)
I was shocked, therefore, to hear the COO of Apple, Jeff Williams, announce that Apple will be offering in its new Apple Watch 4 “the first ECG product offered over the counter directly to consumers.”
This seemed blatantly inaccurate as AliveCor’s device clearly preceded by 4 years Apple’s claim.
Furthermore, AliveCor’s Kardia Band which converts any Apple Watch into a single-lead ECG (which I’ve written about here and here) has been available and providing the Apple Watch-based ECGs since November 30, 2017.
AliveCor has an outstanding website which documents in detail all the research studies done on their products (there are dozens and dozens of linked papers) and all of their press releases dating back to 2012. It also explains in detail how the product works.
AliveCor shortly thereafter (December 12, 2017) announced Smart Rhythm , an Apple Watch app that monitors your rhythm and alerts you if it thinks you are in atrial fibrillation. I’ve discussed Smart Rhythm here.
The new Apple Watch’s rhythm monitoring app sounds a lot like Smart Rhythm but without any of the documentation AliveCor has provided.
So, within 10 months of Alivecor providing the world with the first ever wearable ECG (and proven its accuracy in afib) Apple seems to have come out with a remarkably similar product.
The major difference between Apple and AliveCor is the total lack of any reviewable data on the accuracy of the Apple device. Yes, that’s right Apple has provided no studies and no data and we have no idea how accurate its ECG device is (or its monitoring algorithm).
For all we know, it could diagnose sinus rhythm with frequent APCS or PVCs consistently as atrial fibrillation, sending thousands of Watch 4 wearers into a panic and overloading the health care system with meaningless alerts.
Apple’s website claims
Apple Watch Series 4 is capable of generating an ECG similar to a single-lead electrocardiogram. It’s a momentous achievement for a wearable device that can provide critical real-time data for doctors and peace of mind for you.
Apple’s “momentous achievement” was actually achieved 10 months earlier by AliveCor and if its monitoring algorithm and ECG system are significantly worse than the proven AliveCor system they will be destroying the peace of mind of users.
After describing the Apple Watch’s new health features, Jeff Williams introduced Ivor Benjamin, MD, the President of the American Heart Association. Benjamin proceeded to describe the new Apple Watch cardiac features as “game-changing”, noting that the AHA is committed to helping patients be “proactive.”
Does Benjamin have access to the accuracy of the Apple Watch ECG sensor? If so, he and the AHA should immediately share it with the scientific community. If not, by endorsing this feature of the Watch he should be ashamed. Users need to know if he or the AHA was paid any money for this appearance. Also, we should demand to know if (as the prominent AHA logo suggested and news reports implied) the AHA is somehow endorsing the Apple Watch.
Frequent readers know I’m a huge Apple fan but this Apple Watch business makes me think something is rotten in the state of Apple.
As I described here, the Kardia Band (KB) is an FDA-approved Apple Watch accessory available to the general public without a prescription which records a high quality single-lead ECG.
I’ve been using mine now for a while and can confirm the ease and accuracy of the ECG recordings it makes. I find recordings made with my Apple Watch/Kardia Band are reliably high quality with minimal artifact (unless I’m running on a treadmill.)
Once the 30 second recording is completed, the Kardia app on the Apple Watch takes about 5 seconds to process the information using an AI algorithm and then makes a determination of normal sinus rhythm (NSR), atrial fibrillation or unclassified.
In the JACC study, investigators from the Cleveland Clinic studied 100 consecutive patients presenting for cardioversion from AF with recordings made before and after the procedure. KB interpretations were compared to 12 lead ECGS read by electrophysiologists.
KB interpretations identified AF with 93% sensitivity and 84% specificity. Of the total 169 recordings, 34% were unclassified due to short recordings, low-amplitude p waves, and baseline artifacts.
The authors concluded that the KB algorithm for AF detection, when it is supported by a physician review can reliably differentiate AF from NSR.
(Of note the lead author on this study is on the advisory board of Alivecor the maker of the KB and AliveCor (AliveCor, Mountain View, CA) provided the Kardia Band monitors which were connected to an Apple Watch and paired via Bluetooth to a smartphone device for utilization in the study. AliveCor was not involved in the design, implementation, data analysis, or manuscript preparation of the study.)
My Updated Kardia Experience
I have found the standard Kardia device to be immensely helpful in the management of my afib patients before and after cardioversions (see my prior description here). The paper mentions that 8% of these pre-cardioversion patients showed up for the procedure in normal sinus rhythm, noting that
For each of these patients, the automated KB algorithm did not erroneously identify AF, and the physician interpretation of the KB recording correctly confirmed SR in each case.
Needless to say, it is better to find out a cardioversion is not needed before the patient shows up for the procedure. I would estimate this happens about 5-10% of the time in my practice.
The Kardia device or the KB is also really helpful post cardioversion. If the patient makes daily recordings (which I can review on Kardia Pro online) h/she and I know exactly how long sinus rhythm persisted before reverting back to AF.
This is important information which impacts future management decisions.
Kardia Band Versus Standard Kardia Device
None of my patients have purchased the Kardia Band most likely due to the cost and the fact that they don’t have an Apple Watch. If you have an Apple Watch and want to monitor your heart rhythm I think the KB is a good choice. Otherwise, the original AliveCor mobile ECG device continues to do a fantastic job (in conjunction with Kardia Pro, see here).
The combination of Kardia and Kardia Pro has substantially reduced my use of expensive and annoying long term monitors in my AF population.
In my next update on the KB I will share a reader’s real world description of the pros and cons of the KB (with Smart Rhythm monitoring) in a patient post cardioversion for AF.
The KardiaBand for Apple Watch from AliveCor has delivered on its unique promise of a medical grade single lead ECG recording made by placing your thumb on your wristwatch band.
The ECG recordings are equivalent in quality to those made by their previously available KardiaMobile (see my prior post here.) After more experience with the Band I think the ease of recording is superior to KardiaMobile and the ability to discriminate atrial fibrillation from normal sinus rhythm is similar to KardiaMobile.
By combining either a KardiaBand or a KardiaMobile device with Kardia’s SmartRhythm monitoring system for Apple Watch we now have the promise of personal monitoring to detect atrial fibrillation.
What is SmartRhythm?
SmartRhythm is AliveCor’s term for its system for monitoring your heart rate and activity levels in order to identify when your rhythm is abnormal.
The system “takes your heart rate and activity data gathered from the Apple Watch and evaluates it using a deep neural network to predict your heart rate pattern.”
The heart rate is obtained from the Apple Watch PPG sensor every 5 seconds. If it differs from what is predicted SmartRhythm notifies you to record an ECG.
If you’d like to learn more detail about the development of SmartRhythm and how it functions, AliveCor has an excellent informational piece here.
You can choose to have the Kardia SmartRhythm display come up whenever your Apple Watch awakens. It’s got information on your heart rate and activity over the preceding several hours
The AliveCor FAQ on SmartRhythm stresses that a notification does not always mean an abnormal rhythm. Clearly false positives can and will occur. The first day I wore my KardiaBand I had several of these.
Causes for false positives include exercise that Apple Watch couldn’t detect, stress or anxiety-in other words, situations where your heart rate is higher than predicted by how much activity you are doing.
The long term record of your SmartRhythm recordings resides on your iPhone . Here’s my record for the last week
Note that Kardia , in addition to tracking your heart rate, also shows you by the green, yellow and orange dots, the times that ECG recordings were made.
Green dots indicate recordings classified as normal and yellow as “unclassified.” In my case most of the unclassified recordings were due to heart rate >100 BPM associated with exercise.
There is one orange dot indicating that Kardia felt the ECG showed “possible atrial fibrillation.”
This happened when I took my Apple Watch off my wrist and put it on one of my patients who has permanent atrial fibrillation. I had him push on the KardiaBand sensor to make an ECG recording and it was correctly identified as atrial fibrillation.
Thus far I have had no notifications of “possible atrial fibrillation” while I have been wearing my watch thus the false positive rate appears acceptably low.
How Does SmartRhythm Perform During Exercise?
I checked out SmartRhythm’s ability to predict normal and abnormal heart patterns by wearing it during a session on my indoor bike trainer. The device did a good job of tracking both my heart rate and activity during the workout. You can view the most recent data by viewing your Apple Watch screen during the workout as below
Or for more detailed information you can view the complete history on your iPhone as below
The system accurately tracked my heart rate and activity (although AliveCor lists stationary bike as an activity that may result in false positives). During a session of weights after the aerobic workout despite erratic heart rates and arm movements it did not notify me of an abnormality. I also did 100 jumping jacks (which involves wildly flailing my arms) and the heart rate remained within the predicted boundaries.
What is more remarkable is that I was able while cycling at peak activity to make a very good quality ECG recording by taking my right hand off the handle bar and pushing my thumb down on the KardiaBand sensor on my left wrist.
This recording clearly displays p waves and is sinus tachycardia. It’s unclassified by Kardia because the rate is >100 BPM.
Afib Patient Experience
One of my patients last week, a 70 year old woman with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, had already set up SmartRhythm monitoring on her Apple Watch.
I have this patient like many of my afibbers utilizing KardiaMobile to check an ECG when they think they are in afib.
However, she, like many of my afib patients, is totally unaware when her heart is out of rhythm. Such asymptomatic patients are alerted to the fact that they are in afib by detection of a rapid heart rate (from a heart rate tracking wearable or BP monitor) or an irregular heart beat (from BP monitor or by someone checking the pulse) or by a random recording of an ECG.
She’s started using SmartRhythm in the hopes that it will provide a reliable and early warning of when she goes into atrial fibrillation.
We discussed the possibility of stopping the flecainide she takes to maintain normal rhythm to test the accuracy of the SmartRhythm system for detecting atrial fibrillation in her but decided not to. She’s on an oral anticoagulant and therefore protected from stroke so development of atrial fibrillation will not be dangerous for her.
I eagerly await the first real world, real patient reports of SmartRhythm’s performance in atrial fibrillation detection.
If there are any afibbers out there who have had an episode of atrial fibrillation detected by SmartRhythm please let me know the details.
We need such anecdotes along with controlled trials to determine how useful SmartRhythm will be as a personal wearable system for detection of afib.
N.B. I’ve copied a nice section from AliveCor’s website which describes in detail the difference between measuring heart rate from the PPG sensor that all wearable devices use versus measuring the electrical activity of the heart with an ECG.
To understand how Kardia for Apple Watch works, let’s start by talking about your heart, how the Apple Watch and other wearable devices can measure your heart rate, and how an ECG is different from the information you get from a heart rate sensor alone.
Your heart is a pump. With each beat of your heart, blood is pumped through your arteries and causes them to expand. In the time between beats, your arteries relax again. On the underside of the Apple Watch is a sensor, called a photoplethysmogram (PPG), that uses green and infrared LEDs to shine light onto your skin, and detects the small changes in the amount of light reflected back as your arteries expand and relax with each beat of your heart. Using this sensor, the Apple Watch can tell how fast your heart is beating, and how your heart rate changes over time.
But, your heart rate does not tell everything there is to know about your heart. The PPG sensor on the Apple Watch can only see what happens after each heartbeat, as blood is pumped around your body. It can’t tell you anything about what is making your heart beat, or about what happens inside your heart during each beat. An ECG is very different, and tells you a lot more!
An ECG measures the electrical activity in your heart muscles. It detects the small pulse of electricity from the sinoatrial node (the body’s natural pacemaker, which normally initiates each heartbeat) and the large electrical impulses produced as the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles) contract and relax. By looking at an ECG, a doctor can discern a wealth of information about the health and activity of your heart muscle, much more than you can tell from your heart rate alone. ECGs are the required gold standard for diagnosis of arrhythmias and many cardiac abnormalities, and can even be used to see evidence of acute heart attacks and even events that have occurred in the past.
Research has shown that taking frequent ECGs increases the likelihood of detecting certain arrhythmias, and decreases the mean time to diagnosis.
The skeptical cardiologist has been evaluating the Kardia Band from AliveCor which allows one to record single lead medical grade ECGS on your Apple Watch. What follows is my initial experience with setting up the device and using it to make recordings.
After ordering my Kardia Band for Apple Watch on 11/30 from AliveCor the device appeared on my door step 2 days later on a Saturday giving me most of a Sunday to evaluate it.
What’s In The Box
Inside the box I found one small and one large black rubber wrist watch band
The larger one had had a small squarish silver metallic sensor and the smaller one had a space to insert a sensor. It turns out my wrist required the smaller band and it was very easy to pop out the sensor and pop it into the smaller band.
After replacing my current band with the Kardia band (requires pushing the button just below the band and sliding the old band out then sliding the new one in) I was ready to go.
The Eternal fiancée did not complain about the appearance of the band so I’m taking that to mean it passes the sufficiently stylish test. She did inquire as to different colors but it appears AliveCor only has one style and one color to choose from right now.
I have had problems with rashes developing with Apple’s rubbery band and switched to a different one but thus far the Kardia band is not causing wrist irritation.
I didn’t encounter any directions in the box or online so I clicked on the Kardia app on the watch and the following distressing message appeared.
Prior to 11/30 Kardia Band only worked in certain countries in Europe so I suspected my AliveCor app needed to be updated.
I redownloaded the Kardia app from the Apple App Store , deleted it off my Watch and reinstalled it.
I was thrilled when the app opened up and gave me the following message
However, I was a little puzzled as I was not aware that setting up Smart Rhythm was a requirement to utilize the ECG recording aspect of Kardia Band. Since I have been granted a grandfathered Premium membership by AliveCor I knew that I would have access to Smart Rhythm and went through the process of entering my name and email into the Kardia app to get this started.
Alas, when the Watch Kardia app was accessed after this I continued to get the same screen. Clicking on “need help” revealed the following message:
Bluetooth was clearly on and several attempts to restart both the watch and the iPhone app did not advance the situation.
I sent out pleas for assistance to AliveCor.
At this point the Eternal Fiancee had awoken and we went to Sardella for a delightful brunch . I had this marvelous item:
Later on that day I returned to my Kardia Band iPhone and deinstalled, reinstalled , reloaded and restarted everything.
The First Recording
At this point it worked and I was able to obtain my first recording by pushing the record ECG button and holding my thumb on the sensor for 30 seconds.
I’ve made lots of recordings since then and they are good quality and have accurately recognized that I am in normal sinus rhythm.
The Smart Rhythm component has also been working. Here is a screen shot of today’s graph.
You’l notice that the Smart Rhythm AI gave me a warning sometime in the morning (which I missed) as it felt my rhythm was abnormal. I missed making the recording but am certain that I was not in afib.
Comparison of the Kardia Band recording (on the right) versus the separate Kardia device recording (on left) shows that they are very similar in terms of the voltage or height of the p waves, QRS complexes and T waves.
I felt a palpitation earlier and was able to quickly activate the Kardia Watch app and make a recording which revealed a PVC.
In summary, after some difficulty getting the app to work I am very pleased with the ease of recording, the quality of the recording and the overall performance of Kardia Band. The difficulties I encountered might reflect an early adoption issue which may already be resolved. Please give me feedback on how the device set up worked for you.
I’ll be testing this out on patients with atrial fibrillation and report on how it works in various situations in future posts.
After more experience with the Smart Rhythm monitoring system which I think could be a fantastic breakthrough in personal health monitoring I’ll give a detailed analysis of that feature.
AliveCor has finally gotten approval from the FDA to release its Kardia Band in the United States.
The skeptical cardiologist is quite excited to get his hands (or wrist) on one and just gave AliveCor $199 to get it.
The device incorporates a mobile ECG sensor into a wrist band that works with either 42 or 38 mm Apple watches. I’ve written extensively about AliveCor’s previous mobile ECG product (here and here) which does a good job of recording a single lead ECG rhythm strip and identifying atrial fibrillation versus normal rhythm,
Hopefully, the Kardia Band will work as well as the earlier device in accurately detecting atrial fibrillation.
According to this brief video to make a recording you tap the watch screen then put your thumb on the sensor on the band.
The app can monitor your heart rate constantly and alerts you to make a recording if it thinks you have an abnormal rhythm.
I was alerted to the release of Kardia by Larry Husten’s excellent Cardio Brief blog and in his post he indicates that the alert service , termed Smart Rhythm, requires a subscription of $99 per year.:
AliveCor simultaneously announced the introduction of SmartRhythm, a program for the Apple Watch that monitors the watch’s heart rate and activity sensors and provides real-time alerts to users to capture an ECG with the Kardia Band. The program, according to an AliveCor spokesperson, “leverages sophisticated artificial intelligence to detect when a user’s heart rate and physical activity are out of sync, and prompts users to take an EKG in case it’s signaling possible abnormalities like AFib.”
The Kardia Band will sell for $199. This includes the ability to record unlimited ECGs and to email the readings to anyone. The SmartRhythm program will be part of the company’s KardiaGuard membership, which costs $99 a year. KardiaGuard stores ECG recordings in the cloud and provides monthly summary reports on ECGs and other readings taken.
AliveCor tells me my Kardia Band will be shipped in 1-2 days and I hope to be able to give my evaluation of it before Christmas.
Please note that I paid for the device myself in order to avoid any bias that could be introduced by receiving largesse from AliveCor.
N.B. Larry Husten’s article includes some perspective and warnings from two cardiologist and can be read here.
Another article on the Kardia Band release suggests that the Smart Rhythm program at $99/ year is a requirement.
Perhaps, AliveCor’s David Albert can weigh in on whether the annual subscription is a requirement for making recordings or just allows the continuous monitoring aspect.
It has for the most part taken the place of the more elaborate, but cumbersome and time-consuming, 12-lead ECG in patients where heart rhythm is my only concern.
I’ve also convinced about a dozen of my patients who have intermitent atrial fibrillation to obtain the device and they are actively using it to monitor at home their heart rhythm. Through the AliveCor website, I can view their recordings and see what their heart rhythm is doing when they have symptoms.
Last week, a patient of mine (I’ll call her Suzy) who has had significant prolonged episodes of atrial fibrillation associated with heart failure (but cannot tell when she is in or out of rhythm) notified me that her device was interpreting her rhythm as atrial fibrillation. She had not had any symptoms, but was making daily recordings for surveillance.
Suzy called our office and we brought her in the next day and confirmed with a 12-lead ECG that she was indeed in atrial fibrillation with a heart rate of 120 beats per minute.
It’s pretty amazing that this little, inexpensive device can now replace expensive and elaborate long term cardiac monitors for many of my patients.
AliveCor Rebrands Itself to Kardia
I’ve noticed that AliveCor has rebranded itself as Kardia. If you go to http://www.alivecor.com now you see the fourth generation device along with promotion of a “Kardia band” which apparently works with an Apple Watch to record your ECG.
The Kardia band is not available for purchase at this time but if and when I can get one, it might motivate me to purchase an Apple watch.
When I purchased my AliveCor device in June, 2015 it cost $74.99 from Amazon.com. The newer version is priced at $99 at both AliveCor and Amazon websites. I’m told by Dr. David Albert of AliveCor that this “fourth generation” version is more accurate, so I have purchased it to see if it reduces the problem of occasional bad recordings.
You can see in this picture from the website that the formerly flat metal electrodes now have bumps. Dr. Albert says these result in more surface area for better contact with skin. We will see.
The Value of Early Detection Of Atrial Fibrillation
Meanwhile, I will be doing an electrical cardioversion (shocking or resetting the heart) on Suzy to get her back to normal sinus rhythm. If we had not detected the asymptomatic onset of her rapid atrial fibrillation using the AliveCor/Kardia device, chances are we wouldn’t have known about it until her heart muscle weakened again and she became short of breath from heart failure.
I have Suzy on blood thinners to lower her risk of stroke associated with her Afib but for my patients who are not on blood thinners, detection of silent or asymptomatic AFib is even more important.
p.s. The skeptician in me feels this post borders on infomercialese.
Let me make it clear that I have no connection with the company formerly known as AliveCor and have received nothing from them (not even free test devices or Apple Watch Kardia Bands!) but I’m just really excited about the device and how it can help my patients (oh, please excuse me, this really sounds like marketing) “empower” themselves to take control of their heart rhythm.
In the course of writing this, I’ve discovered an academic paper evaluating 13 ECG smart phone type ECG devices so there are other devices you could try. I haven’t had the time or resources to evaluate them.