Monitoring heart rhythm via ECG tests is nothing new – most of us probably recognise the image of a beeping heart curve on a hospital monitor if not from our own experience, then at least from a film. However, checking a person’s electrical heart activity on their phone while standing next to them in their office is another story.
VitalSignum’s story, in fact.
It all started with VTT research team leader and enthusiastic cyclist Timo Varpula, who experienced potential signs of overtraining one day and wanted to check his heart condition. He soon realised that the options for home monitoring were very slim.
“The available alternatives were to either register the heart activity for a short time or do the monitoring in the hospital, which is problematic as the cardiac symptoms don’t necessarily occur during an appointment,” says VitalSignum CEO Veli-Heikki Saari. “Varpula came up with an easy-to-use device that was not yet available on the market.”
The product immediately raised interest around the world and, in 2015, the project left VTT and VitalSignum was founded. Two years later, the company opened its online shop.
Finger on the tech pulse
The Beat2Phone device delivers realistic and continuous information about cardiac activity recorded while, for example, exercising, resting or spending a hectic day at work. Instead of using handheld sensors, the device does not interrupt other activities as it is strapped around the chest monitoring the heart 2 000 times per second.
The data is then transferred via Bluetooth to a phone app where the heart wave can be watched in real time or archived for later analysing.
“Even with just a little bit of knowledge of ECG, the app makes it is easy to draw a lot of conclusions,” says Saari. “Everybody’s heart is slightly different, which makes it important to regularly check the cardiac condition and it is particularly interesting to see how it changes during exercise.”
Athletes and coaches in particular buy the product as it allows them to maximise their condition and prevent possibly fatal cardiac problems. Monitoring heart rate variability can give indications of how well the body recovers from intense workouts, which is crucial in order to hit top condition and avoid overtraining.
Picture of health
The product currently available is only the first version and VitalSignum aims to launch an upgraded device primarily intended for hospital use – but first it has to be medically approved. The ultimate goal is to contribute to the preventive care of strokes and thus potentially reduce both the pain and the costs caused by them.
“Researchers believe that over half of strokes are caused by atrial fibrillation,” says Saari. “If the doctor can find the arrhythmia beforehand, it is possible to start preventive care and prevent strokes from occurring.”
Therefore, the company now seeks medical approval for the upgraded Beat2Phone device and its intended purpose of high-quality ECG monitoring that is accurate enough to detect arrhythmias. The plan is to get the updated product on the market next year. By then the collected data will also be connected to a cloud from where doctors can easily access it and get valuable information for the diagnosing and treatment of the patient.
Monitoring mobile healthcare worldwide
Winning medical approval is a crucial step in commercialising the product and expanding the sales within and beyond the Finnish borders. The application areas are many and, in the future, the Beat2Phone device could also be used for home care in order to detect possible danger situations more quickly among elderly people.
VitalSignum strives to become a leading provider of mobile solutions for monitoring healthcare and is currently mapping the international markets.
“Our device has raised much interest in the medicine industry abroad, and both national and international universities are keen to use the device for research purposes,” says Saari. “I believe that these types of remote screenings will increase in Finland and all around the world.”