Mayo Clinic Partner AliveCor Predicts Major Disruption on Horizon in Healthcare

This is the second and final part of the story of a dynamic event in Rochester last week, “A Conversation with Vic Gundotra” with seasoned entrepreneurs and senior management team of AliveCor, Vic Gundotra and Dr. Dave Albert. AliveCor is a wearable healthtech startup based in Silicon Valley. This event was organized by Collider Coworking and sponsored by Rochester Home Infusion and Mayo Clinic Ventures.

In the previous article in this series, Gundotra spoke about his seminal work at both Microsoft and Google during the early stages of both companies. After logging a combined twenty-four years at these major tech moguls, Gundotra retired to spend time with his teenaged children.

“And then my kids got tired of me,” he joked.

To re-enter the workforce after retirement, Gundotra required three things. First, he wanted to work on a project that involved machine learning, which he believed was going to change the world. Second, he wanted to work on wearables. And lastly, he needed to work for a company that was doing something that mattered, something that could make a real impact.

Dr. Dave Albert and his AliveCor met all those criteria.

“This is a six-year-old startup. It’s an overnight success that’s taken a decade,” Albert quipped.

Together Albert, Gundotra, and their AliveCor team created a small device called Kardia, which is about the size of a stick of gum and contains two, square electrodes. Users place their fingers on the electrodes and perform an electrocardiogram, or ECG, within thirty seconds to display their heart’s electrical activity right onto their smart phones. Software in the AliveCor app utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to determine the normal range of an individual’s ECG and sends an alert when that rhythm becomes abnormal.

Each year, more people die from heart disease and stroke than from any other disease. Atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heartbeat, can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other forms of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. These arrhythmias can easily and quickly be detected using AliveCor’s device “without having to go to the doctor’s office, taking off your shirt, and having a technician put leads all over to do one to two ECGs a year,” explained Gundotra. “AliveCor was producing this device that could save people’s lives.”

Today, AliveCor is using ECG technology based on intellectual property and work initiated at Mayo Clinic to estimate serum potassium levels from ECG readings. People with high levels of potassium, a condition called hyperkalemia, can die without displaying any symptoms. Albert says AliveCor is “honored” to work with Mayo and sees the partnership only growing from here.

AliveCor is also in pilot studies with technology built into Apple watch bands to continuously monitor heart rate. Again, using AI and machine learning to recognize a person’s “normal” heart rhythms, the technology alerts users to take their ECGs on AliveCor’s Kardia device when it detects abnormalities. Albert sees this pairing as technology that can “guard your heart” for a lifetime.

Both Gundotra and Albert anticipate a “tsunami” coming that will disrupt healthcare and other daily activities as we know them today.

“When I left college, that was a risk, a very dangerous risk. But I believed that the world was about the see the transformation and the role of personal computers. When I left Microsoft after fifteen years, that was a risk,” Gundotra said. “I think there’s a bigger shift than in all the things I’ve ever witnessed in my life.”

He believes that AI is going to revolutionize healthcare as we know it.

Gundotra says that yes, it’s going to be great to look back to this time in history and say that AI allowed for things like autonomous cars and facial recognition in photos.

“But it [will] fundamentally transform society. And I think one of the biggest place that AI’s going to have an impact is on our health,” explained Gundotra.

AI, he said, will change how we track, treat, and identify disease.

“If I were an entrepreneur in Rochester, I would be working with Mayo Clinic and doing AI. That’s what I would spend my life on,” he affirmed. Gundotra said the opportunity before us is the biggest he’s observed in the last twenty-five years.

Albert expects AI to impact multiple aspects of our lives and to even change ingrained industries, such as truck driving. “But these transitions are often disruptive and scary,” he explained.

Both Albert and Gundotra see AI as an enhancement, not a threat, to today’s healthcare system that can allow for improved patient care. The AliveCor device, for example, is a “function of cost.” Gundotra’s own father suffered from a heart attack after having a recent, normal ECG at his cardiologist. However, his family could detect the deterioration in his health when a device in a physician’s office could not.

Gundotra suspects that if his father’s ECG was monitored continuously, along with other layers of his physiology, these changes in his heart may have been caught. But today’s doctors don’t have the time and the healthcare system can’t pay the cost for a physician to look at an ECG every day. A machine, however, can do this at an exceptionally low cost.

“AI is going to revolutionize medicine. It’s not going to replace doctors. It’s going to extend the doctor’s sight,” predicted Gundotra.