I should subtitle this review "I shaved my chest for science" ... but that's getting a bit ahead of myself. Last month I wrote about the HealthPatch BioSensor from VitalConnect, a US$199 medical-grade sensor that is used with adhesive bandages and an $9.99 app from SweetWater Health called SweetBeatLife. Together, the HealthPatch and SweetBeatLife app create a way for determined athletes or tech-savvy doctors to take a look at heart health.
First, let's talk about the HealthPatch. You actually get a pack of adhesive bandages that are designed to hold the tiny sensor in place on your skin. For men with hair on their chests -- manly men, that is -- you're going to have to shave a small patch of hair in order to use this. That's why I basically stalled for a month to do this review. There are three possible locations for the patch -- the upper chest at a 45 degree angle, the center of the chest at the sternum, and under the left chest at the rib cage. That last spot was the least hairy, so that's where the shaving occurred. I'll save you the agony of looking at the photos...
Once the spot is ready to go, VitalConnect recommends using an alcohol wipe to prepare your skin prior to sticking this thing on. The adhesive patch actually has a battery inside, some circuitry to bring power to the sensor, and two contacts that make contact with your skin.
This is one device that you definitely want to read the manual for. You basically open a small flap, put the sensor into a cavity in the back of the patch, and an LED lights up to let you know that you have power. A "module cavity liner" gets removed, and then you're told to "press down firmly around module cavity to seal patch". Now we're ready to rock and roll -- the backing is removed, and you put the patch onto your chest.
Now that you're essentially a walking, talking Bluetooth-equipped human, it's time to fire up the app. SweetBeatLife is designed to help you monitor stress, calculate your HRV (Heart Rate Variability), test for food sensitivity, and also correlate data captured by the app with other devices like the Fitbit and Withings trackers. As with many fitness and health apps, SweetBeatLife lets you store your exercise session charts and get other information if you sign up for an account.
So, early this morning I slapped the HealthPatch on my chest, fired up SweetBeatLife, and did a few readings while resting before going out for my usual morning walk. The most impressive thing about the HealthPatch? Just how comfortable it is. I've gone through one treadmill stress test in my life, and the electrodes were quite annoying to have dangling from various parts of my chest. As I sit here with the HealthPatch on, I can't even feel it -- that's the type of unobtrusiveness that would make patients quite happy.
The HealthPatch is designed to stay attached during sweat-inducing exercise; in fact, it can be used as long as the battery in the patch can power it. I was impressed that during the entire 35 minute walk and a cool down period afterwards, the HealthPatch never lost its Bluetooth connection with the iPhone. The SweetBeatLife app can run in background, capturing information while the phone is sleeping in your pocket or armband during a walk, run or ride. The battery? It never varied from 100% (as measured by the SweetBeatLife app) during my testing.
One aspect of the SweetBeatLife app that I found interesting was its calculation of stress on the body. That level actually peaked after my walk, while cooling down. The app provides a fascinating breathing exercise that can be used to reduce the stress level -- you inhale deeply and exhale fully based on a breath pacer, and an abstract shape changes color to indicate your body stress level. I would like a bit more information on exactly how the SweetBeatLife app calculates stress, as the fact that it is saying that I'm at a high stress level when I'm actually feeling wonderful and relaxed after a walk is stressing me out.
Of course, the HealthPatch BioSensor works with any app that is written to receive and process the information it sends out. One possible future scenario would be to have heart patients wear a HealthPatch if they're showing symptoms that might lead to a heart attack, and run an app that would automatically dispatch emergency responders to a location when the app determines that a heart attack is imminent.
For anyone who takes their health seriously, physicians looking for a new way to capture health information unobtrusively from patients, and professional or dedicated amateur athletes who are looking for an edge in their training, the VitalConnect HealthPatch BioSensor is a relatively low cost way to implement cutting-edge health monitoring. The future of devices like this is going to be incredible.