November 26, 2013
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Consumers who use AliveCor's mobile heart monitor can now send ECGs via their smartphones to cardiologists employed by CompuMed, a company that interprets ECGs for other physicians. Alternatively, patients can transmit an ECG to a technician service and receive a "technical read" without medical advice.
Euan Thomson, CEO of AliveCor, told InformationWeek Healthcare that he's unaware of any other alliance between a manufacturer of mobile medical devices and a telemedicine firm. Neither American Well nor MDLive -- both leading telemedicine companies -- advertise this feature on their websites.
Traditional telemedicine services, such as those that specialists use to remotely examine patients in rural areas, include the ability to hook up scopes and other medical devices to the videoconferencing equipment. But these are very expensive setups that are not designed for consumer use.
[What is "mHealth," and how could it change healthcare? Read How Mobile Devices Reshape Patient Care.]
The AliveCor Heart Monitor is the only FDA-cleared mobile ECG recorder that supports both iPhone and Android smartphones, the company says. In the US, a patient must have a doctor's prescription to purchase the device, which costs $199. The accompanying smartphone app can be downloaded for free.
Thomson said that AliveCor's US customers are divided about evenly between physicians and patients. Of the doctors, fewer than half are cardiologists; the rest are mostly primary care doctors who use AliveCor's single-lead ECG for routine screening purposes. A 12-lead machine is required for a full ECG, but that isn't cost-effective for primary care doctors, who are paid very little for these tests, he said.
According to Thomson, doctors prescribe AliveCor's heart monitor primarily to people who fall into one of two categories: patients with atrial fibrillation, and the "worried well," who are concerned that they might have a heart condition even though tests don't indicate that they do. Using the AliveCor mobile device can help reassure these people.
If patients wonder what their ECG means and don't want to bother their personal physician between visits, they might want to send it to CompuMed, Thomson said. A cardiologist will get back to them within 24 hours to tell them whether they should be concerned and what they should do. After that, he said, the patient might send their ECGs to the technician service. That service, which is separate from CompuMed, charges $2 per "read." The technical reads come back to their smartphone, and a dictionary built into the AliveCor app explains the terms that the technicians use.
The ECGs and the reports, including those from CompuMed, are stored on a physician portal. When the patient visits his or her doctor, that clinician can log into the portal, view the data, and discuss it with the patient.
Thomson expects this new system will make prescribing AliveCor more attractive to physicians. Until recently, he noted, patients would email ECGs to their physicians, and many doctors were understandably wary of being overwhelmed by emails. Having the ECGs stored on a portal makes them easier to deal with.
Physicians don't have to worry about increasing their liability risk if they don't constantly look at new ECGs on the portal, Thomson said. As long as they tell patients upfront that they'll view them only during face-to-face encounters, they're protected.
"Hundreds of physicians have prescribed this technology, so they concur they're not increasing their liability by doing so," he observed, adding that more than 1,000 patients now use AliveCor's device on a regular basis, and some practices are prescribing it to all of their appropriate patients.
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