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Ahead of His Time: Part II


Posted by Brian Buntz on January 3, 2012

PAGE 2 OF 3

Enter the iPhone

Part of the problem in finding support for the mobile ECG device was the limitation of the mobile technology available at the time. “And then the world changed,” Albert says. Apple had introduced the original iPhone, which caught their attention. But they were especially impressed when the iPhone 3G debuted in 2008.

 
 What a different the iPhone makes: Above is a picture of the RhythmStat XL (along with an original caption from a product brochure). Below is, obviously, the iPhone ECG.

Albert continued to think about the idea and, in 2009, built a prototype for an ECG using the Mophie rechargable case as a platform for it. They took apart the 1500-mAmp battery of the Mophie device and integrated it with single lead ECG technology.

“This might work, I thought,” says Albert. Satchwell was skeptical, but offered his help to work on the electronics and write software to support the technology.

“So we made this prototype and it was lousy, but it kind of worked sometimes,” Albert says. And it was able to upload ECG data to the Web.

In April 2010, Albert showed the technology as a proof of concept to a number of companies. He was hoping they would be interested in the device because of its potential to monitor atrial fibrillation, which is a major cause of strokes and affects between three and four million people in the United States.

A large medical device company Albert presented to had conducted focus group studies in several U.S. cities, asking cardiologists if they would find a mobile ECG for patients as useful. “And they said, the data was absolutely clear, no one wants this.’”

At the time, Albert found this news discouraging. But he now invokes Steve Jobs to explain why focus group data isn’t always reliable. When a reporter asked Jobs about the iPad market research, he replied that no research had been done. “It's not the customer's job to know what they want,” he said. Albert often uses that anecdote to his own thoughts on focus group data.

A Nice Chunk of Money

In April 2010, Albert got a call from a rapidly growing, venture capital-backed company active in the cardiac monitoring space. The firm had contacted Satchwell and was interested in iPhone-based ECG technology.

Albert went to visit the firm and brought his prototype. “When I got down there, they put a slide up on the wall and it showed their concept of an iPhone in a case with electrodes on the bottom of it. And they showed a picture of our prototype. And they said ‘great minds think alike.’”

Bruce Satchwell
Albert and Bruce Satchwell (shown above) have long had similar thinking when it comes to mobile ECG technology.

About six months later, the firm paid Albert and Satchwell “a nice chunk of money” for an option to buy the business. “During that summer, we got the terms done, negotiated, [and] they paid us the option money,” he says.” “It was a nice little pay day. But no venture capitalist would have written home about it.”

In the meantime, Albert and Satchwell were making significant progress advancing the technology.

However, the firm that paid an option for the technology began complaining and claiming that the IP behind the technology was poor. “But, in actuality, our IP is very, very good,” Albert says. “I have 33 issued patents. I have done this before. They were essentially trying to negotiate with us by claiming that.”

“Turns out they that the company had been thrown into turmoil.” he says. “We didn’t know that. And so they could not—they were not allowed by their board—to exercise their options. So we got to keep the money.”

Albert and Satchwell took the money and went to a company named IDT in China in October 2010 with the goal of getting help to make a better prototype. IDT, the OEM arm of Oregon Scientific, makes products such as heart rate monitors and pedometers for companies that include Timex, Adidas, Nike, and Omron. “I had a relationship with IDT dating back several years, so I knew their quality and their senior management,” Albert says. “They had FDA 510(k) experience, and they would build the prototypes without upfront payment.”

iCard ECG
Albert holds the AliveCor iCard ECG brings the functionality of the iPhone ECG to a range of devices.

“And on December 14 last year (my 56th birthday), I received a box with 15 prototypes—snap-ons for the iPhone 4,” Albert recounts. “They worked beautifully,” he says. “So then, I was pretty excited. I sent Bruce [Satchwell] a couple. And he was excited.”

Albert decided to bring the prototypes to the Consumer Electronics Show held in January 2011 in Las Vegas.

The Fateful YouTube Video

At this point, Albert filmed the video described earlier. “And I sent the video to two people because they told me they were not going to be at CES. Two companies,” he says. “I just happened to upload it to my LinkedIn account. And I had about 600 LinkedIn connections. I had 20 Twitter connections and 100 Facebook friends. But I happened to click the box that said ‘go to Twitter’,” he says. “That changed my life.”

“So at 11:00 a.m. on December 30, 2010, I clicked upload,” he says. The video’s popularity exploded with the help of social media. A flood of messages were sent to Albert’s e-mail. Satchwell called from Australia saying “David, have you seen what is going on? Watch the statistics, mate, it is crazy!”

The video had 200,000 views by April 2011. It now has had 337,000 at the end of December 2011.

The above image, pulled from YouTube's statistics, shows the number of views of Albert's video demonstrating the iPhone ECG.

People such as cardiologist and genetics researcher Eric Topol, MD and Leslie Saxon, MD, a professor at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, soon caught wind of the technology. The technology fits with Saxon’s mission of, as she puts it, bringing “a little bit of pop culture to medicine and a little bit of medicine to pop culture.” Saxon invited Albert to come to her annual Body Computing conference in Los Angeles, an event dedicated to wireless technology used to monitor health. Saxon also asked if it would be possible to order 100 units of the prototype to use under a clinical trial.

Albert also took the technology to the University of Oklahoma in the cardiology division, where he formerly had worked, with the interest in doing a clinical trial.

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