The Eko Core digital stethoscope is a “why didn’t I think of that?” invention.
In a few months, the stethoscope will celebrate its 200th birthday. A medical breakthrough in 1816, it’s still a part of nearly every doctor’s visit today and a symbol of medicine itself.…
Stripped to its essentials, the Eko Core digital stethoscope is a highly engineered Bluetooth microphone designed to fit medical stethoscopes. The device wirelessly transmits patients’ heart sounds (not EKG) to a smart phone or tablet app.
The Eko Core was invented and commercialized by a team of UC Berkeley engineering graduates (claimed to be the youngest team to secure FDA clearance for a Class II medical device).
What Eko Core did well
In developing and executing its strategy, the Eko Core team did a number of things right:
- Targeted a huge existing market. Most doctors and many nurses carry and use stethoscopes every day.
- Recognized and addressed a nagging clinical problem: It can take years (even decades) to become adept at using a stethoscope to recognize heart sounds.
- Improved the functionality of the stethoscope by enabling visualization and amplification. Benefit to the user is improved confidence in identification of heart sounds.
- Made their device a simple, affordable ($199) add-on to the user’s existing stethoscope.
- Employed a Bluetooth wireless connection to the user’s smart phone or tablet . Data from the stethoscope is displayed in a custom app.
- Enabled data sharing via “the cloud” so that users can share typical and atypical heart sounds and learn from each other.
- Partnered with major EHR suppliers to enable the digital stethoscope data to be entered into the patient’s electronic medical record.
- Identified the potential for use of the Eko Core to lower healthcare costs by reducing costly referrals to cardiologists for unusual heart sounds.
What Eko Core hasn’t done yet
- Showed they can be financially successful over time. Medical device sales and marketing is expensive. Manufacturing under FDA, GMP, ISO, etc. regulations can increase costs. Maintaining healthy profit margins on low-priced medical devices can be a challenge.
- Exhibited a competitive advantage over similar products, Thinklabs for example.
- Fully protected their intellectual property, although the company did recently file a patent application.
- Leveraged their technology beyond one-hit wonder status.
The number of medical stethoscope users in the developed world is on the order of several million. Growth rates are slow, with new graduates replacing retirees, etc. That puts the potential market at around $500-600 million.
Not bad, but once you “pick the low-hanging fruit” and sell to the early adopters and early majority customers, selling more units gets progressively tougher and more costly. And given competition, it’s a race for market share to capture and keep customers.
I think this will be a fun and profitable business for a while. Longer term, I hope Eko Core has a big medical device company lined up as a distribution partner and has an encore product that leverages the same technology and customer base.