Certain health problems are difficult to treat despite advances in modern medicine, and some need early intervention for better chances of survival. Heartisans, a graduate of HKSTP incubation programmes, has devised a smart watch to monitor heart issues, which pose serious health risks, especially for urban folk. The watch helps wearers keep an eye on their own heart condition so that they can quickly seek medical assistance as soon as vital signs become irregular.
Striving to keep heart disease risks under control
The Centre of Health, under the HKSAR Department of Health, ranks heart disease as the third most common cause of death in Hong Kong. Heart problems have been exacerbated by bad lifestyle habits, such as long-term high sodium and high fat diets, over and above hereditary factors. Heartisans’ co-founder Sang Yeon Hwang has lost family members to heart-related illnesses. This drove the major in sports science to do what he could to combat heart disease for his family and by extension for society.
In 2014, Sang met his founding partner, Tim Lui, who graduated from biomedical engineering at Cambridge University. As Tim’s family also has a history of heart issues, the duo was equally motivated to come up with a reliable heart monitoring device. Heartisans was thus formed at the end of 2017.
Electrocardiography is usually conducted in a hospital or a clinic as patients are required to run on a machine wearing specialised equipment to measure health data such as heart rates. Because people without obvious symptoms don’t bother to visit a hospital to undergo such a test, it is often too late to find to out when a heart problem rears its ugly head. People with a confirmed diagnosis, on the other hand, lack a handy solution to monitor their heart condition daily, which means they could live in a constant state of anxiety, unsure if they are overworking their heart.
Non-stop monitoring of vital signs
The smart wearable that Sang and Tim have developed, based on medical studies, can be used by everyone, heart patient or not, to conveniently monitor their heart health. The Heartisans Watch uses two built-in sensors – the Electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor and the Optical Heart Rate (PPG) sensor, to work with a Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) sensor to measure blood pressure, generate an electrocardiogram, check a pulse and get a GSR reading, all of which are vital indicators of heart health. The data is delivered through a smart phone and tablet app.
The Heartisans Watch boasts 24-hour monitoring, enabling users to check how their daily activities, such as eating, exercising, working and sleeping, are affecting their heart health. The device’s app also has an algorithm to calculate stress levels. When blood pressure and pulse readings indicate the user is under stress, it will recommend relaxation through deep breathing, yoga or meditation.
Market verification and user data are the biggest gains
The Heartisans Watch has been distributed to 35 countries globally, including Hong Kong, the US and Singapore, via e-commerce channels. Sang says that while sales of the watch are at satisfactory levels, it hasn’t been an overnight sensation. More importantly, the product has been proven in the market and it has garnered a pool of critical health big data.
Given that the Apple Watch Series 4, released for use in the US in September 2018, offers an ECG function, comparisons between it and the Heartisans Watch are inevitable. Sang emphasises that the Heartisans device has the unique selling point of measuring blood pressure, and that optimised monitoring solutions can be tailored for specific users or organisations. By contrast, the Apple Watch provides only a health data monitoring function without value-added solutions.
The prospect of entering the professionals’ market
Based on what it has gained through its current user base, Heartisans is taking its research further and working with its big data to make the product more rounded and compelling. The next generation of the device will have big data analysis and predictive functions. The company is also planning to apply for FDA approval, which will pave the way for the Heartisans Watch to become a certified healthcare device with extended market potential for remote care for patients and the elderly.
Sang is thankful for the support provided by HKSTP. The company has established a partners’ network with other startups at Science Park and formulated effective marketing promotion programmes with HKSTP’s help. He says HKSTP also facilitated its application for matching funding from the Enterprise Support Scheme, under the Innovation and Technology Fund, for joint research with medical organisations. The funding has been most helpful for the commercialisation of its product. After graduating from HKSTP incubation programmes, Heartisans is staying put at Science Park and continuing its partnership with HKSTP to pioneer research into, and applications of, a new generation of health monitoring devices.