Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is pioneering the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for cardiac screening in a new study of Eko’s cardiac monitoring platform. The study aims to demonstrate that Eko’s digital stethoscopes and AI algorithms can interpret heart sounds accurately to help screen for pathologic heart murmurs and valvular heart disease.
“If proven effective, Eko’s platform could be a much simpler, lower cost way to identify patients with heart disease,” said James Thomas, MD, director of the Northwestern Center for Heart Valve Disease and the principal investigator for the study at Northwestern. “We are looking to support and advance work that broadens access to the best diagnostic tools in healthcare, regardless of whether a patient lives in the city or a more rural area. Deep learning provides that expert knowledge, regardless of a patient’s location.”
Despite serving as the icon of medicine for two centuries, the stethoscope can be a challenging tool for healthcare providers to master. Stethoscopes demand a highly trained musical ear that can separate subtle abnormalities from normal sounds with cardiologist-level precision. While more objective cardiac screening tools, such as echocardiograms, are available in specialty clinics, the low cost and speed of the stethoscope exam makes it the standard for heart disease screening. Machine learning can combine the data from tens of thousands of heart sound patterns and provide that accuracy to physicians anywhere.
“Artificial intelligence is transitioning into clinical studies with potentially revolutionary implications for the practice of cardiovascular care,” said Patrick M. McCarthy, MD, chief of cardiac surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and executive director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute. “Northwestern Medicine is the perfect incubator for partnering with companies using machine learning in a variety of clinical settings, and it’s through advancements like this that we will become even better physicians.”
“One of the biggest problems in healthcare is that general practitioners so often miss heart murmurs that if found earlier would allow patients to get treatment before problems arise,” said Connor Landgraf, CEO of Eko. “Northwestern is known for their work in valvular heart diseases and together we are working on AI technology that will detect the two most prevalent valve diseases with the sensitivity of a cardiologist. The results of this study will work to bridge the gap for general practitioners and early detection of these life threatening conditions.”
Eko is funding the study of the AI systems at two sites, planning to enroll 1,000 patients, 800 of them at Northwestern. The clinical trial is part of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute’s new Center for Artificial Intelligence, where Northwestern’s cardiovascular clinical program works with early innovators in AI, develops new products, and trains physicians in this new field through Northwestern University McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Masters program in Artificial Intelligence.