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Vital Connect is a Silicon Valley chip startup that wants to make a vital signs monitoring device in the shape and size of a Band-Aid. It already has one biosensor device called HealthPatch in the market, and it is intent on creating the most accurate health-tracking wearable in the market.
Rather than make a consumer-oriented wearable like the Apple Watch or an uncomfortable chest strap, Vital Connect thinks small. It has focused on making a device that is cheaper and more accurate because it is contained in a small patch-like device that straps like a bandage directly over your heart, where it’s easier to get better measurements. The health care industry can use something like HealthPatch, since it allows remote monitoring of people who might otherwise be staying in a hospital.
“We have a medical device that is small and unobtrusive,” said Nersi Nazari, chief executive of Campbell, California-based Vital Connect, in an interview with VentureBeat. “Our measurements are accurate and cleared by the Food and Drug Administration.”
The disposable, FDA-certified device connects wirelessly to your smartphone, where an app shows you your vitals such as steps taken, heart rate, breathing, and skin temperature (eight measurements in all). The app gives you a dashboard view of your vital signs at a glance. The company is currently shipping thousands of HealthPatch devices per month, but it has a better version coming soon.
It’s all about the approach and methodology, as Vital Connect is shooting to get clinical-grade electrocardiogram (ECG) results. By contrast, any device strapped to a wrist can only be so accurate at detecting your heart rate and physical activity, said Valeska Schroeder, senior vice president of product management, in an interview.
“By being on the chest, we get the electrical signal of the heart,” she said. “We don’t have to deal with a lot of noise in the measurement. We can do continuous monitoring.”
The Vital Connect device works while you’re awake or sleeping, and even in the shower. The company claims it can get an accurate heart rate as well as count your steps accurately. The device sticks to your chest, and it can be reused about 500 times, for about a three-year life.
On top of creating a better medical device, the company also wants to make it cheaper. Vital Connect wants to bring the power of Moore’s Law — the prediction that the number of components on a chip would double every couple of years — to medical devices, said Stephen Zadig, chief manufacturing officer, in an interview with VentureBeat. Vital Connect is using a contract chip manufacturer, or foundry, to fabricate its chips.
“My goal is to bring it down in cost and build billions,” Zadig said. He compared the progress of Moore’s Law, named after Intel chairman emeritus Gordon Moore, to making tin cans in the 1800s. The cans used to be made by hand, but now they can be made for half a penny each at a rate of 10,000 an hour. The new HealthPatch device coming soon will have a chip that can be made for under a dollar.
“This is going to be extremely inexpensive in high volumes,” Zadig said. “We believe we’ve built the best biosensor in the world.”
Zadig and Nazari met at Marvell Technology, where they focused on communications chip design and manufacturing. Zadig got the idea to do a bandage-like sensor, and he brainstormed with Nazari about how to do it right. They’ve spent four years building a system-on-a-chip with the right sensors for monitoring data — and that didn’t get messed up by the natural signals of the human body.
“The human body operates at 8 hertz,” Zadig said. “We found it is a very hard place to capture data. It has a lot of noise and challenges with physical connectivity. The body has self-compensatory systems that defy the easy transfer of information.”
Going beyond chip experts, Vital Connect had to hire medical professionals and bioengineers to understand signals and fuse together them to get meaningful contextual information, Zadig said.
“We believe that with our device, we can monitor you accurately and get information that allows us to be proactive and predictive,” Zadig said. “It will allow us to live out our lives in a happier way. We hope that you can pick up on problems that are of concern to a doctor before you wind up in the emergency room.”
As for a watch like the Apple Watch, Schroeder said, “The vision sounds like a great one, but they are confronted with the reality of the risk and the noisy environment.”
Even when you take someone’s blood pressure on the arm, the blood pressure changes in real time as the person holds the arm out, due to gravity’s effect on the blood and body, Zadig said.
“Your ability to sense blood pressure on an extremity rather than directly on the heart is a lot more difficult,” Zadig said. “We give you contextual data. If your heart rate spikes and you are on a run, you could be healthy. If you are lying down, that’s not good. The feedback we get from doctors is very good.”
Since HealthPatch gives doctors more context, the device can be used to predict health over time. And at the same time, patients can be much more mobile than if they were wired to an ECG machine in a hospital.
“You can get patients out of the hospital sooner,” Zadig said.
Beyond medical monitoring devices, Vital Connect is exploring other markets for its chips, which have 30 times the processing power of other devices and 20 percent of the power consumption.
Vital Connect has 60 employees.
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