In a few months, the stethoscope will celebrate its 200th birthday. A medical breakthrough in 1816, it’s still a part of nearly every doctor’s visit today and a symbol of medicine itself.
Yet the stethoscope hasn’t changed much in the past 200 years. No different than in the 17th century, listening to a heartbeat has been a manual process that relies entirely on a doctor’s ear to detect irregularities.
That is, until today. And it’s all thanks to Eko Devices, a Berkeley-based startup that just became the youngest team to secure FDA clearance for a Class II medical device. Co-founders Connor Landgraf, Jason Bellet, and Tyler Crouch, all rather recent graduates of UC Berkeley, have added a digital dimension to the centuries-old tool.
Dubbed the Eko Core, their solution is an adapter that attaches to the typical stethoscope and streams the heartbeat data to the cloud, providing doctors with an entirely new layer of information to analyze.
“It’s incredibly challenging to hear a minute heart murmur, especially in patients with high heart rates,” says Landgraf. “Cardiologists say it’s almost like a musical ear, it’s something that you have to learn over five or ten years of practice.”
With the Eko Core, the physician can see the heartbeat in wave form on a mobile device as well as hear the sound at an amplified level. Both the visible and audible data can be recorded and easily shared between physicians and hospitals.
For doctors, this takes a lot of the guesswork out of detecting murmurs, valve problems, and blockages in the arteries.
And for the 70 percent of pediatric patients with suspected heart murmurs who are unnecessarily referred to a cardiologist, Eko will be able to save thousands of dollars in avoidable echocardiograms.
“Physicians don’t have confidence in their ability to use the stethoscope in a lot of situations so they frequently refer people to cardiologists when it’s not necessary,” Landgraf says.
Eko is running a pilot with Stanford Hospital, where all residents will be using the Eko Core device as a training tool. Today, the company is releasing the device to the public for $199 on its own, or $299 with a stethoscope included.
Over the next few months, the team will be continuing to develop an algorithm that analyzes the data collected by all Eko devices in order to match heartbeats to conditions in real-time. Kind of like the “Shazam for heartbeats,” as Landgraf says doctors like to call it.
“Connecting patients to physicians with noninvasive tools to understand what’s going on in peoples’ hearts is going to be really powerful,” Landgraf says. “Right now you can catheterize a patient to find out what the pressures are like inside of the heart, but it’s very invasive and inefficient.”
The condition-detecting feature is slated to launch in Q1 of next year, and Landgraf hints that Eko will eventually roll out additional products to give physicians a better understanding of the heart in a noninvasive manner.
Since Eko was founded in 2013, the company has raised $2.8 million from Stanford’s StartX Fund, FOUNDER.org founder Michael Baum, and the co-founders of Shazam, among others.