Eko: Seeking to Reinvent the Digital Stethoscope

I’ve previously covered digital stethoscopes in this health tech column, and though they have a lot of promise I have yet to see one “in the wild.” The physicians I’ve spoken to generally fall into one of two categories: they do not rely on stethoscopes anymore, or they are affixed to their analog stethoscopes and see no reason to change. That is why I was surprised to see another entrant in the digital stethoscope market: Eko. The company recently raised more than $2 million and has managed to convince some that they’ll succeed where others have not. I caught up with co-founder and chief operating officer, Jason Bellet, to learn more.

How did you come up with the idea for Eko?
During his time in a UC Berkeley BioDesign course, Eko’s co-founder and CEO Connor Landgraf had the opportunity to study firsthand some of the clinical pain points clinicians experience due to a lack-of, or underperforming, technology. One specific pain point he identified was the difficulty hearing and diagnosing heart conditions using an analog stethoscope. Thus, Eko set out to apply state-of-the-art technology to one of medicine›s oldest tools to help address this problem.

Can you describe the process you went through to create Eko?
To develop Core, Eko’s digital stethoscope attachment, the founding team sought the advice of some of the nation’s top cardiologists and data scientists. Our goal was to not only improve the stethoscope by making it digital, but to provide clinicians with a platform to get actionable insights from their patients’ heart sounds. Our advisory board consists of cardiologists from Johns Hopkins University, UCSF, and Stanford University, as well as data analytics trailblazers like Michael Baum (co-founder, Splunk) and Chris Barton (co-founder, Shazam).

Core was developed to enable clinicians to keep the stethoscope they already own (and often, love!) as well as leverage the power of the smart devices they already had in their pockets. The device is the first digital stethoscope to be wirelessly connected to a clinician’s mobile device. In addition to amplifying heart sounds and actively reducing external noise, Core is also engineered to allow clinicians to transition between analog and digital modes as they see fit. Our HIPAA compliant software platform lets a clinician save, analyze, and share patient heart sounds from their mobile devices.

Has your team performed research on Eko versus other digital and analog stethoscopes?
Eko is preparing to start clinical studies at UCSF to assess the clinical utility and efficacy of the Eko core in both pediatric and adult examinations. We›re excited to get it in the hands of physicians and understand the clinical benefits above and beyond current digital or analog stethoscopes on the market.

Do you all have plans for automated analysis and diagnosis of heart & breath sounds?
At Eko we believe in providing clinicians with actionable data and decision support tools that can be leveraged at the point of care. We are often referred to as “the Shazam for heartbeats” because we are in the process of developing a decision support algorithm that will help clinicians better understand important characteristics of their patients’ heart sounds. Our study at UCSF will be used to validate this algorithm, which will be released after the Summer 2015 launch of the device and software platform.

Why do so many clinicians and students stick to analog stethoscopes? What do you see as the greatest challenges to getting Eko adopted?
The feedback we received from clinicians of all types was that current digital stethoscopes are too expensive (they retail between $350-$750) and had accompanying software that was extremely difficult to use. In addition, some clinicians are frustrated by the difference in analog and digital sound. After years of listening to analog sounds, it can be uncomfortable to fully switch to a digital stethoscope.

Our device addresses all of these issues. We have an analog mode available at all times. It will retail for approximately 50 percent of digital stethoscopes. The software is mobile, Bluetooth-connected, and easy-to-use.

What are your plans for Eko in the next year? Next five years?
Our goals for the next year are to secure FDA clearance on the Core, complete clinical studies, and get the product into the hands of clinicians around the world. Shortly after, we look forward to securing clearance and releasing the decision support algorithm to be paired with the product.

Over the next five years, we will be working to advance the digital healthcare experience by developing other connected technologies that make medical data actionable, personal, and mobile.

Shiv Gaglani is an MD/MBA candidate at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Harvard Business School. He writes about trends in medicine and technology and has had his work published in Medgadget, The Atlantic, and Emergency Physicians Monthly.

Keywords: CardioSource WorldNews, Biomedical Technology, Stethoscopes

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