Heart failure is the fastest-growing cause of hospitalization in the United States, but a tiny, high-tech implant may change the way doctors treat the problem and offer huge potential to save lives and money.
The device is no bigger than a paper clip, but it could have an enormous impact for the 1.1 million Americans hospitalized each year with heart failure. Those hospital trips add up to a bill of more than $18 billion annually, according to the American Heart Association.
A study released today by researchers at The Ohio State University found that patients who receive the implant experienced 38 percent fewer hospitalizations in the first year, a huge number in the medical world.
"I think it's a grand slam," said Dr. William Abraham, one of the study's principal researchers. "It has been a decade since we have seen a trial this positive in terms of heart failure."
Called the EndoSure Wireless AAA Pressure Management System, the device is a tiny sensor, implanted through a catheter into the heart's pulmonary artery, a procedure that takes just seven minutes.
Once a day, the patient passes a wand over his or her chest, which remotely collects real-time data on heart pressure from the sensor and sends it to a secure Web site, where doctors can review it on a computer or even a handheld device.
The implant, made by the company CardioMEMS, doesn't even require a battery -- it is powered by the radiofrequency wand.
The device is still in clinical trials and is awaiting FDA approval, though CardioMEMS invites patients to contact them for further information or for help finding a physician on their Web site, www.cardiomems.com.
High levels of pulmonary artery pressure can be dangerous, but with the implanted chip, doctors get the information right away and can modify medications quickly, often before there is any need for hospitalization.
Up until now, a simple scale was one of the only weapons used to monitor patients' hearts. A poorly-working heart doesn't pump enough blood, leading to fluid build-up and subsequent weight gain.
Though daily weigh-ins had been the gold standard for monitoring patients, it turns out that the scale is not a precise tool.
"We now know that daily weight change is very insensitive to predicting episodes of worsening heart failure," said Abraham.
They're now hopeful that a tiny, paper clip-sized implant can do far more, feeding doctors information with the power to save lives.