Performing an ECG at 33,000ft

Article By : Matthew Burgess

A startup has managed to miniturise an ECG monitor to such an extent that you can now perform the scan yourself from your own home.

Living with an ailment is hard enough, having time off work to get regular scans just makes things worse. But what if it’s not you that’s sick but your new-born baby and instead of having scans carried out on specialised equipment, you’re watching medical professionals try and get accurate results from an electrocardiogram (ECG) not made for infants?

QT Medical, a startup based out of California, is tackling this very issue with their portable ECG device, PCA 500, which has been specifically designed for the ‘layman’ to use at home. By using a PCA 500, a patient can carry out their own ECG scan and then upload their results to an online platform for their doctor to then examine.

PCA 500 Platform

(Source: QT Medical)

Speaking with the QT Medical team in Taipei, Renee Tseng, Director of Marketing and Sales for QT Medical explains that “we are currently the only company in the world which provides an FDA approved medical grade 12 lead ECG device for home use”.

The team at QT Medical have managed to integrate all of the electrodes and cables required for a medical grade ECG scan into a single electrode strip which can then be positioned on the chest area of the patient. This is expected to increase the accuracy and consistency of ECG results for infants as they’ll know longer be able to tug on the cables. Not to mention the value that new parents will find in being able to control the environment in which their child is being scanned.

“Traditionally you have to attach the electrode to the patient and then clip the cable to the electrodes, this is around twenty steps. We have integrated everything so all you have to do is peel off the electrode strip and place it on the patient. We have minimised the process from twenty steps to just four” said Tseng.

PCA 500 Comparison

This image displays the relative complexity of applying a conventional ECG device when compared to the QT Medical’s PCA 500

Tseng empathised that they haven’t just created a smaller ECG monitor, it is a ‘true’ home use device. To attain their FDA approval, 2,800 people tested the device without the use of medical professionals, of which, 2,500 were infants whose parents operated the device. 87% of those which took part in the trials stipulated that they preferred the QT Medical device over a conventional ECG Monitor.

functions, features and happy customers

In the pursuit of creating a truly innovative and unique medical device, QT Medical’s founder and CEO, Dr. Ruey-Kang Chang, chose to establish the R&D team in Taiwan. Although Dr Chang was born and raised in Taiwan, I think it’s safe to say that it was more than sentimentality that motivated his decision. Brett Chien, Vice General Manager, Research and Development at QT Medical, explains that Taiwan boasts a similar skill level as that of their counterparts in the U.S. and it’s about more than cheap labour.

“We’re not just cost effective; we have a very complete electronics ecosystem here. If you want to make a small device then many Taiwan companies are good at this so if you need any kind of parts or some kind of break through integration, everything is here in Taiwan” said Chien.

Taiwan has a strong background in developing consumer electronics which has created a wealth of talent and a vibrant startup scene but the same can’t be said for the medical industry. This has resulted in QT Medical creating an eclectic team of engineers and developers primarily with a background in consumer electronics. Currently, medical equipment comes with a level of complexity that requires a technician to operate. Chien insists that this is where QT Medical has excelled, his team – with its background in consumer electronicss – knows how to take a consumer centric approach.

Supported by colleagues with a competent understanding of the regulatory requirements that goes into creating a medical device, the team were able to focus on “functions, features and happy customers”.

Chien expresses the importance of striking the right balance but feels that QT Medical has found “great synergy between medical and consumer electronics”.

Finding the right market

Once you’ve created a device which you believe can create a paradigm shift in homecare, how to do you then penetrate a market which is notoriously slow to adapt?

Tseng is confident in QT Medical’s offerings but, “proving our device works is easy but how do you change their practice? In the medical field, to change their practice, they need to change their standard operating procedure (SOP), that’s difficult” she said. While there are still plenty of doctors out there with “younger minds”, Tseng highlights that QT Medical has found success in some unlikely markets.

They have discovered that there is a strong demand from airlines for innovative medical equipment which can be used by flight attendants during medical emergencies in the air. To demonstrate the simplicity with which a person could carry out a scan on an aeroplane, QT Medical’s very own Dr Chang used the device at 33,000ft in an economy seat during one of his flights between California and Taipei.

Still striving to break into the hospitals and clinics market, QT Medical continue to innovate.

They’re currently in the process of developing QT Pro, a defibrillator proof medical grade ECG device which could be used in the emergency room (ER) and in an ambulance. The device can be speedily attached to a patient using the electrode strip and a defibrillator can then be used between scans without the need to be removed.

Not shy to experiment with new ideas, QT Medical have begun trailing an online service called EKG 360 which they described as taking on the form of an ‘Uber model’ of sorts. A patient which owns a PCA 500 device can perform a scan at home, upload the data and then have a medical professional send them back the results. Theoretically, this would not only unburden medical facilities but provide patients with the benefit of carrying out a medical scan from the comfort of their own home without the need to visit a doctor.

Tseng, optimistic about QT Medical’s future and the potential for EKG 360 said, “after we build our business model in the U.S., we then hope to find partners in different countries”.

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