Pacemakers That Can Call Doctors

Heart patients can now have their vital signs monitored by a doctor from the comfort of their homes.

There are now two new devices that send critical information about patients hearts directly to their doctors

Thanks to the miniaturization of electronics, the new devices will stimulate your heart so it beats normally, and then send a report to your doctors to let them know how you are.

The implantable devices are high-tech pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) that jump start your heart with direct electrical impulses when you experience irregular rhythms.

In addition to keeping a patients heart beating normally, the new devices can record information about the patient's heart and send it via cell phone or standard phone lines to the doctor's office.

"This is the beginning of a new world in implanted heart devices," said Dr. Leonard Ganz, director of cardiac electrophysiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Aside from the comfort that patients will receive knowing they are under the constant supervision of a physicians, doctors say this new technology will improve the quality of health care and decrease the number of expensive hospital visits.

Housecalls Over the Phone

St. Jude Medical produces an ICD with the capability of sending data over standard phone lines. The system consists of a small box that plugs into a phone jack. To transmit data the patient simply passes a wand over the device in his chest, and the box then sends the information.

Ganz recently used this technology to detect a faulty ICD in one of his patients. The patient phoned in her information after the device sent an electrical impulse to her heart. It was then discovered that the device had fired in error, and the problem was corrected.

Biotronik has automated the process with its cellular home monitoring system, which the FDA approved on October 11. So far, there are over 10 medical centers across the country that have begun using it.

A small transmitter was added to the Biotronik pacemaker, which allows it to send a message to a cell phone device. Once a day, usually while the patient is sleeping, the pacemaker is programmed to send information to the cell phone, which can be kept next to the bed.

The phone then sends the information to the company, who relays a report to the physician via email or fax. According to the company, the entire process from heart to doctor takes only three to five minutes.

"This opens up a whole new ability that allows the doctor to reach into the home environment," said Dr. Sanjeev Saksena, the director of the Cardiovascular Institute and Arrhythmia Service, Atlantic Health System in New Jersey.

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