'Alexa, How Is My Heart?' Using Smart Speakers to Monitor Cardiac Rhythm

By Megan Brooks

March 11, 2021

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Smart speakers in the home can be used for contactless monitoring of heart rhythm, with results that match closely with standard heartbeat monitors, researchers report.

They developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that transforms the smart speaker into a short-range active sonar system that sends inaudible sounds out into a room to measure heart rate and individual heartbeats.

"We show that we can use smart speakers as a device to help with cardiac-rhythm monitoring," Dr. Arun Sridhar of the division of cardiology at the University of Washington, in Seattle, told Reuters Health by email.

"There are a multitude of applications for this device. It can be used in healthy populations as well as cardiac patients. Most importantly these devices are already available in millions of homes, are low-cost compared to medical-grade devices, and are highly scalable technology that can be deployed quickly across homes for health monitoring," said Dr. Sridhar.

In a proof-of-concept study, the researchers tested a prototype smart speaker running the AI system in 26 healthy adults and 24 adults hospitalized with diverse structural and arrhythmic cardiac conditions such as atrial fibrillation, flutter and congestive heart failure.

Compared with standard electrocardiogram (ECG) data, the AI system computed inter-beat intervals (R-R intervals) for healthy participants with a median error of 28 ms over 12,280 heart beats and a correlation coefficient of 0.929, the team reports in Communications Biology.

The smart speaker performed almost as well with cardiac patients: of the 5,639 heartbeats measured, the median inter-beat interval was within 30 ms of the standard ECG, with a correlation coefficient of 0.901.

"The results are very promising and we expect that in the next one to two years this can be deployed in commercially available smart speakers. The algorithm can be deployed as a simple software update," Dr. Sridhar told Reuters Health.

"This is excellent for the telemedicine world where with COVID-19 a number of visits have moved to virtual visits. Currently, while the healthcare providers can see the patients and converse with them, it is challenging to get vital signs and track cardiac conditions in such tele-settings," Dr. Sridhar said.

Currently the system is set up for spot checks. If an individual is concerned about their heart rhythm, they can sit in front of a smart speaker to get a reading. However, future versions could continuously monitor heartbeats while people are asleep, which may help reveal sleep apnea-related arrhythmias, Dr. Sridhar said.

"If you have a device like this, you can monitor a patient on an extended basis and define patterns that are individualized for the patient. For example, we can figure out when arrhythmias are happening for each specific patient and then develop corresponding care plans that are tailored for when the patients actually need them," he said in a news release.

"This is the future of cardiology. And the beauty of using these kinds of devices is that they are already in people's homes," he added.

Funding for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation. All authors are inventors in the provisional patent application in the process of being submitted by the University of Washington.

SOURCE: https://go.nature.com/3bui952 Communications Biology, online March 9, 2021.