Patients take heart

Heart patients in the US may soon be fitted with a defibrillator that automatically signals a doctor via wireless satellite transmission if their heart beats abnormally or if the device malfunctions.

In a major advance for heart patients, Loyola University Health System is the first hospital in the US to implant into a patient a new FDA-approved defibrillator which automatically signals the doctor via wireless satellite transmission if the patient’s heart beats abnormally or if the device malfunctions.

When a patient’s status changes, a built-in microchip of Biotronik’s Lumos DR-T implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) sends a signal to a satellite via a small transmitter that can be placed on a nightstand, worn on a belt or kept in a handbag.

In addition, Biotronik’s Home Monitoring system almost instantaneously sends a beat-by-beat record (similar to an electrocardiogram (ECG)) of any heart rhythm abnormality which the doctor can view on a secure website.

“The patient doesn’t have to press any button or call the doctor to activate the system,” said cardiac electrophysiologist Dr. Niraj Varma, associate professor of medicine, division of cardiology, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, and director of the cardiac electrophysiology lab, Loyola University Health System, Maywood, Ill.

The doctor can program the device to send an alert for specific reasons, such as a significant increase in the number of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) episodes, as well as specify the preferred alert method, be it via email, cell phone, fax or pager.

“With this surveillance system, physicians for the first time have a way to monitor non-hospitalised heart patients 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week,” he said. “It will enable us to identify problems early on as well as help prevent problems.”

Implanted in the chest, the ICD is a small electronic device which shocks the heart back into a healthy rhythm if it detects an abnormal heartbeat. Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) is a major cause of death following heart attacks. Studies have shown mortality is lower in ICD-treated patients.

“The new ICD provides faster delivery of care to patients and also reduces the number of times a patient has to go to the doctor’s office for follow-up visits,” said Varma, who specialises in treatment of arrhythmias.