September 1, 2007 Cardiologists have begun including a mini-antenna with implanted defibrillators in order to relay information about the patient's health to an in-home wireless system and back to the doctor. The system sends information about any kind of arrhythmia, blood pressure, weight, and other vital statistics without the need for an appointment, saving the time of doctors and patients.
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Defibrillators save lives for people with a heart condition. These patients have a thin line between life and death. Now, new wireless technology allows doctors to monitor their vital signs and implantable devices from anywhere, anytime. Judy Borland used to live in fear her heart would stop beating.
"I went into heart failure two years ago, and I had only 15 percent use of my heart muscle," Borland said.
She has a pacemaker, takes eight pills a day and had to stop working. But that's better than the alternative.
"I think the thought of not being able to work is horrible. But the thought of not waking up in the morning is worse," Borland said.
A mini antenna -- built into Borland's pacemaker -- sends data about her health to a wireless system in her home, which transmits the information to her doctor without waiting for the patient's next visit.
"It would now be similar to if your car had an abnormality and your dealership calling you and telling you your car has a problem that you may not even know exists," said Kousik Krishnan, M.D., cardiologist at Rush University Medical Center.
The system also reads Borland's weight and blood pressure and asks a series of questions. Since Borland lives two hours away from the hospital, it gives her peace of mind. She has only one complaint.
"I live alone. I wish this machine would talk to me more often, you know,' Borland said. 'I requested a male voice, but they have not gotten it to me yet, but they are working on it."
Rush University Medical Center is one of 18 centers in the country involved in the study on this system, called "LATITUDE." It's unique because it constantly records data, unlike other systems, which only alert doctors when there's a problem. The device is covered by health insurance.
BACKGROUND: An easy-to-use in-home monitoring device for patients is changing the way doctors monitor the health of patients with implanted defibrillators. Rush University Medical Center, along with 18 others across the United States, is participating in a pilot study of the LATITUDE Patient Management system to determine if this wireless home monitoring system can decrease the number of hospitalizations for heart failure.
HOW IT WORKS: A mini-antenna built into the implanted defibrillator sends data to a wireless system placed in the patient's home. The data is automatically transmitted to a secure Internet server where the physician can access this medical information at any time, from any place. Unlike other remote devices, which only transmit data if certain parameters are out of range, the LATITUDE system uploads health information that can help physicians monitor the day-to-day changes in patients. In addition to the data stored before, during and after an arrhythmia, the system employs a wireless weight scale and blood pressure monitor to record vital statistics crucial for the management of cardiac failure patients. For instance, an abrupt change in weight could indicate worsening heart failure. So the same information that would normally require a visit to the doctor's office every few months can now be downloaded to the physician at any time without the patient ever leaving home. If the patient feels the defibrillator activate, he or she can transmit the rhythm information to their physician, who can quickly analyze the data to determine if the patient needs to be hospitalized.
HAVE A HEART: The heart pumps 5.6 liters of blood through the entire body in roughly 20 seconds; each day your blood travels some 12,000 miles, and your heart beats about 100,000 times. This delivers oxygen and other essential nutrients to the body's cells and organs. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart muscle is cut off, either because part of the heart is damaged (such as the valves to the chambers), or because plaque has built up inside the arteries, narrowing them and severely restricting blood flow. Symptoms of a heart attack include a squeezing discomfort in the center of the chest, pain or tingling in the left arm, shortness of breath, and sometimes a cold sweat, nausea, or dizziness.
ABOUT WIFI: Wireless, or "WiFi," technology and the Wireless Internet are a direct result of the staggering growth in cell phone use over the last decade. It is a system of connecting personal computers and other electronic devices in close physical proximity through high-frequency radio waves instead of wires or cables. The Wireless network is basically a series of linked transmitters and receivers. There are two main components in a traditional hub-and-spoke wireless network: wireless access points and wireless clients. Access points are base stations that are connected to the network at regular intervals to provide maximum coverage in a given region. Wireless clients are the network interfaces housed in computer devices that communicate with the access point.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.