It’s never been easier to manage your health or quantify your biological self at home than it is today, thanks to a growing interest in connected health products. Devices like connected scales, Bluetooth glucose monitors, wireless pulse oximeters help patients become a manager of their own healthcare, and apps like Google Fit, Samsung Health and Apple Health do a good job of integrating data from various apps to give you a better picture of your overall health and draw correlations between fitness and changes in your blood pressure, for example.
One player to enter the smart health devices market is Qardio, and unlike rivals like Withings, iHealth and others, this company is dedicated to products that target heart health. The company has a connected QardioArm, which measures your blood pressure, and a QardioBase, which helps you keep track of your weight, both vital statistics for patients with heart disease or heart failures to actively monitor. In this review, we’ll specifically look at the features of the QardioArm.
Available in several different colors—white, red, blue and gold—the $99 QuardioArm is a stylish and discrete device that takes blood pressure readings from your upper arm. The blood pressure cuff is made out of a black nylon fabric, and it wraps around the colorful rectangular brick for storage. The brick houses all of the QardioArm’s electronics, and the device connects to your Android or iOS device via Bluetooth.
I prefer the brick-like design of the QardioArm over the cylindrical aesthetics of competing devices, like Withings’ Wireless Blood Pressure Monitor. The rectangular design takes up less space, and it feels like it’d be more sturdy if you’re packing the device in a suitcase when traveling. Still, the functionality is similar to the Withings and other connected blood pressure monitor on the market.
The QardioArm is powered by four included AA batteries. And while I would have liked to see a model with an internal battery that can be recharged over a microUSB or USB Type-C cable, Qardio’s decision to go with replaceable batteries makes sense given that this may be easier for older patients to use, and you can readily swap out batteries rather than have to wait and recharge.
To take a blood pressure reading, you’ll basically unwrap the nylon cuff, place your arm inside and attach it to your upper arm and secure the velcro fastener. As part of the QardioArm’s focus on an elegant design and simple user experience, there isn’t a power button to mess with—the device will intelligently power on and activate the connected app on your phone. From the app, you can tap on a button to begin the process to measure and record your blood pressure.
The software makes it easy for you to remember to take regular blood pressure measurements, and you can set reminders within the app. During my testing, I set up a daily reminder, which alerted me via push notifications, to take readings in the morning before I left the house for work.
And because traditionally, heart disease have been linked to an older demographic—though that’s changing these days—there’s a flexibility in how you can setup the device. You can allow friends or caretakers, for example, to follow your measurements. Additionally, your support group can also receive a push alert whenever a measurement has been recorded.
The app also lets you add notes and geolocation tags to your recording to give you a more complete picture of the changes to your blood pressure. If there is a spike today, for instance, and you ate extremely salty foods the night before, you can add a notation. This way, when you go through your historical measurements, you can possibly extrapolate what is working and why.
Even if you don’t annotate or geotag your readings, being able to understand what your blood pressure means is useful, and this is an area where Qardio excels compared to competing solutions. While the app gives you direct numerical measurements for your systolic, diastolic and pulse readings, it’s sometimes difficult for the casual home user to understand what’s normal and what’s high. In this case, you can use a comparison graph within the Qardio app to see how your measurements stack up to other users of the same gender and age group that’s pulled from the World Health Organization. This makes it easier for users to visualize what’s normal for them, and if they fall outside of the normal average, then they can work with nutritionists and medical professionals to work on a plan to get them back to normal, which may include things like reducing salts from their diet and exercising.
In addition to supporting the iPhone, iPad and Android smartphones and tablets, the Qardio app can be used on the Apple Watch and on Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets. I wish Qardio would extend its wearable support to Samsung’s Tizen-powered Gear S3 smartwatch and to Google’s Android Wear smartwatch platform.
Many medical experts argue that home blood pressure readings are more accurate than the readings taken at a doctor’s office. Factors such as nervousness or stress at a medical office can result in a higher than normal reading, which professionals have labeled as “white coat syndrome.”
For this reason, doctors and cardiologists may deduct a few points from readings taken at their offices, Zervoglos said, highlighting the benefits of data taken at home.
At home, you won’t have the white coat syndrome, and you’ll also be able to capture more data points. If you see a doctor twice a year, that’s just two data points, whereas a reading taken every day means you’ll have 365 data points, leading to more accurate health analysis.
And to make data collection by the QardioArm even more accurate, the device takes three consecutive measurements every time you use it, and the software takes an average of the three readings. On a recent doctor’s visit, I brought my QardioArm and compared the Qardio readings to the measurements taken by the nurse with a standard medical-grade blood pressure monitor and found the readings to be very comparable. The QardioArm can also detect irregular heartbeats.
You can have the Qardio app automatically synchronize your readings with Google Fit or Samsung Health for Android devices or with Apple Health for iOS. Additionally, you can manually enter in your weight information or blood pressure measurement if you took a reading from a non-connected device using the Qardio app.
In addition to being able to see and analyze your own measurements, you’ll be able to share your data in a convenient way with family members, caretakers and doctors. While the ability to casually share data with family members and caretakers is present in a few competing devices, it’s the ability to share this data with medical professionals that make QardioArm unique.
The data shared with practitioners, including participating doctors and cardiologists, is sent over a secure connection that meets US HIPAA laws for patient privacy, said Qardio Chief Business Officer Alexis Zervoglos in an interview at the company’s San Francisco office.
The service and platform is called QardioMD. Doctors who wish to receive Qardio data from their patients can join at no costs, and Qardio even provides some back-end analytics and AI to alert doctors when it detects any irregularities in a patient’s readings that may require medical attention or intervention.
As a user though, you won’t get any warnings or notifications. Zervoglos said that this is an intentional design, as Qardio isn’t in the business of helping people self diagnose. Rather, as he explained, Qardio is about helping patients maintain and improve their health. So if the system works the way it was intended to, patients shouldn’t need to wait for QardioArm to send a danger alert to get you to an emergency room.
After your blood pressure information is recorded and sent to Qardio’s servers, it gets analyzed by an AI engine. Doctors can set up individual criteria for monitoring or ranges for individual patients for an even more customizable experience, and if the AI engine detects any anomalies, it sends the patient files to the top of the doctor’s queue on the QardioMD web portal. Doctors can then choose to follow up with the individual patients if necessary.
QardioMD will be able to incorporate data collected from QardioArm, QardioBase and Qardio’s upcoming QardioCore, a portable and wearable ECG monitoring device designed for home and personal use into a graph for doctors to get an even bigger picture of various factors that could affect your heart health.
Because QardioMD is a platform that’s free and available to doctors and cardiologists, Qardio hopes that as more users participates, it will be able to build a more robust database to better provide insights and analysis. Right now, cardiologists will have to register for an account, and Qardio executives informed me that the platform is still in its infancy. Though Zervoglos would not divulge platform statistics, such as how many practitioners are using QardioMD or how many patients are monitored through the digital database, he did say that in early tests, doctors were pleased with the user experience offered by Qardio. The catch is if Qardio can gain traction with healthcare professionals.
The QardioArm delivers accurate blood pressure measurements in a beautiful and minimal package. The results are easy to understand, and built-in connectivity allows Qardio to add meaningful features, such as reminders, being able to add notes to build context and the ability to share your data with medical professionals, caretakers and family members.
And while the QardioArm is a near perfect device, there is still room for improvement. A rechargeable battery would be a nice addition, as is the ability to import or record exercise data into the Qardio app. While you can view a complete picture of your health and fitness through connected hubs like Google Fit, Samsung Health and Apple Health, being able to see your workouts or steps directly in the Qardio app may be beneficial to some users, particularly those who suffer from heart disease.
Where Qardio shines is in its QardioMD platform. If your cardiologist participates in the platform, it allows you to securely share readings from the QardioArm, QardioBase and upcoming QuardioCore devices with your doctor. And if Qardio detects any anomalies from your routine at-home measurements, your doctor would be alerted to give you early intervention whenever possible. In this sense, you become an integral part of your medical team, and connected smart health devices, like those made by Qardio, empowers the patient to take ownership of their medical care.
I’d also like to see Qardio directly notify users if its intelligent software sense there could be something wrong. Qardio’s current system sends these alerts to doctors on its QardioMD platform, and not the users. Because heart disease is affecting people at a younger age these days due to a variety of factors, including stress, direct patient alert would be invaluable for people who may not currently have heart disease to monitor their health from a preventative perspective. In this case, these patients may not have a doctor and they likely would not have seen a cardiologist in the past. This is an area that likely is governed by FDA regulations, but it’d be a useful addition to a smart health device.