A smartwatch packaged with a national network of CPR-ready good Samaritans is set to start shipping July 11. Maker iBeat said that it has 11,000 preorders for its Heart Watch device, which registers changes in heart rate and blood flow that might signal cardiac arrest and sends for help.
CEO Ryan Howard said that reaching the product launch stage has been “hard work and super challenging, especially in this market.” He added, “It’s been a lot of work, but we’re ready.”
The work was to develop a watch that appeals to an aging population of still-active people who don’t want to be tethered to home with conventional monitoring devices, said Howard. Even if they have heart disease that warrants caution, users can still venture out and about with device that will summon help if they need it, he said.
The smartwatch continuously monitors heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and circulation. If it detects signs indicating a heart attack—cessation of blood flow, no heart rate—it first asks the user in a simple interface, “Are you OK?” The user, if conscious, can tap “yes” or “no.” The latter response has a couple of possible effects.
In the absence of a response or with a “no” reply, the watch messages the company’s dispatch team, which will send help from one of several possible sources. These sources can include emergency contacts that the user enters, emergency services or a third option, the “Heart Hero Network.”
Watch users can sign up to take advantage of this network, a nationally distributed population of 1.5 million people trained in CPR and first aid, at the ready to leap into action should someone suffer a cardiac crisis nearby. The device relies on built-in GPS and uses what Howard described as an “Uber-like” system to alert participants in the area to the emergency. The idea is that the “Hero” will respond, appear, perform heroic CPR and save precious minutes that can be lost waiting for emergency services to arrive.
The product rollout started July 11 with device sales through its website, and Howard said that the company is taking it slow. They’re waiting to see what sort of customer service requirements its user population will have before going live with Amazon sales. The San Francisco-based company , is also in talks with Best Buy.
This aspect of the rollout is consumer targeted, but Howard, who was previously CEO and founder of the cloud-based electronic health record company Practice Fusion, said that they also have several enterprise partnerships established or in the works.
iBeat started out “hell-bent on consumer,” he said. But after their data showed that two-thirds of people over age 52 years have heart disease, they started thinking “insurance partners.” They first put out feelers to health insurance companies, to no avail (they said it was a “really cool product,” Howard said, “but not for us”). iBeat execs realized that life insurance companies might have more interest in a device that purports to save lives.
Survivors of cardiac arrest tend to live an average of 3 years year after the event, Howard said. For life insurance bean counters, that means delaying a payout for several years while the insured continues paying premiums. This calculus makes the iBeat Heart Watch (originally called Life Monitor) attractive to these companies because it might grant those extra years of life—and that extra money. iBeat has what Howard describes as a multimillion-dollar deal with life insurance giant SCOR and another agreement with Transamerica.
In addition to life insurance partnerships, Howard sees an opening with primary care physicians, who could reap fiscally from using the watches to monitor at-risk patients. The remote-monitoring code 99091, which allows doctors to bill Medicare separately for collecting and interpreting remotely acquired patient health data, is a way for a primary care physician to bring in significant revenue, said Howard. Offering the device for these clinicians is “a slam dunk for us,” he said, and large systems are already approaching iBeat about using the devices this way because “economically and from a healthcare perspective, it’s really compelling.”
Along with the presales, the life insurance partnerships will bring in about $4 million in booked revenue, said Howard, with several million more in deals in the offing. “We think that we can put a lot of scale there,” he said.
One partnership that’s not on the horizon is with another smartwatch or sensor maker. “We looked at the Apple watch, we looked at Samsung, we looked at sensors in the market,” said Howard, “and nothing was really going get us to where we needed…and heart rate alone at the wrist was unreliable.”
Motion added enough noise to drown out the heart rate signal with these options, he said. So iBeat’s developers looked at other measures that would be useful to add and settled on tissue oxygenation, to compensate for drawback of heart rate noise, and on perfusion/circulation measures. They worked with Medici Technologies to validate the sensors and are working on ongoing evaluation with what Howard describes as a “top 10 university cardiovascular center,” with plans to “run this in perpetuity because there is new data to gather all the time.”
Looking forward, the company still plans to gain U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the iBeat Heart Watch as a medical device. Currently, iBeat is careful to clarify that the watch is a “consumer wearable.” “Right now, it is positioned as a monitor,” Howard said. “It never can be said that it diagnoses anything.”
The iBeat Heart Watch will retail for $249, along with the user option to pay a monthly monitoring fee starting at $17, with a $41 savings for signing up for a full year. Oh, and in addition to telling you that you’re alive, the device also can be used, well, like a watch … to tell time.