In context: Artificial intelligence has blown up in the medical industry as of late, with some promising results. So far, we've seen AIs that can diagnose eye diseases, transcribe medical notes in real-time, and even detect signs of depression in psychology patients. Now, digital health company Eko has received 'breakthrough' approval from the FDA to develop an algorithm that can detect heart failure early.

Breakthrough status, for the unaware, is label the FDA uses to fast-track certain projects if they represent "novel" innovation or the potential to address serious, life-threatening diseases or injuries. In other words, if a project is too valuable and important to get bogged down in bureaucracy, the FDA may give it a helping hand.

This project certainly falls into that category. According to Eko, heart failure affects "about 5.7 million" people in the US. Many of us probably know at least one person who has suffered from a heart condition throughout their lives, whether it's a parent, grandparent, or sibling.

The main problem with existing heart disease screening methods, according to Eko, is that they often catch problems too late. "Because of limited access to echocardiography, heart failure is frequently diagnosed late, making life-prolonging treatment more challenging," the company writes in a press release.

"Because of limited access to echocardiography, heart failure is frequently diagnosed late, making life-prolonging treatment more challenging,"

Eko's algorithm presents itself as an "easily accessible" tool that doctors can use to quickly analyze "15 seconds" of ECG data collected from one of the company's other projects, the Eko DUO digital stethoscope. This test can be easily woven into a routine physical exam -- no need for expensive or time-consuming testing. The algorithm looks for "reduced" Left Ventricular Ejection Fraction, which Eko claims is a sign that one's heart pump is weak.

According to Eko's press release, there are many treatments for this condition, so catching it early could mean the difference between life and death for the millions of people that suffer from heart complications. With the FDA's help, perhaps Eko's work will become a standard in hospitals around the globe -- or perhaps not.

When it comes to technology, it's challenging to predict what products, services, and ideas will succeed, and which ones will fail. For the sake of humanity, though, we certainly hope Eko's latest project lands in the former camp.

Masthead credit: Shutterstock