High tech heart help

New system can transmit victim's status from ambulance to doctors' cell phones

In cardiology, time lost can mean a life lost. A new technology, recently adopted by El Camino Hospital and local firefighter/paramedics, will help cardiologists act faster and make better-informed decisions about heart attack victims, health officials said.

The Lifenet EMS system allows medical technicians to transmit detailed information on a patient's heart condition wirelessly from the field, directly to emergency room personnel and doctors' smart phones.

El Camino Hospital is the first hospital in Santa Clara County to implement the system.

The new system will improve patient recovery and save lives, according to Dr. Chad Rammohan, medical director of the Chest Pain Center at El Camino Hospital.

"I'm really excited about the technology," Rammohan said. "With it, I think we can take care of patients more quickly and effectively, and improve patient outcomes."

Lifenet, created by the medical technology company Medtronic, uses a secure web-based network to send detailed electrocardiograms to the hospital, where the severity of a patient's condition may be determined. If a patient is suffering from what is known as an ST-elevation myocardial infarction, or STEMI -- the most serious form of heart attack in which a coronary artery becomes completely blocked -- the hospital can prepare to perform a balloon angioplasty to clear the blockage. Cardiologists can also receive a digital copy of the electrocardiogram, or ECG, on their smart phones, so they are better prepared to treat the incoming patient.

About 400,000 Americans suffer from a STEMI heart attack each year, according to the American Heart Association.

"Time is tissue," Rammohan said, explaining that the heart essentially begins to die once blood flow is cut off, as happens in the event of a STEMI. The longer such a blockage persists, the greater the chances of severe heart damage and the lower the chances of patient survival. "Opening it up fast has shown to help people live longer and have a greater quality of life for longer."

According to Rammohan, the hospital's "door-to-balloon" time -- the time between a STEMI patient's arrival and subsequent treatment -- can be reduced 10 to 15 minutes with the Lifenet system. "Ten or 15 minutes is a dramatic improvement," Rammohan said.

Brad Wardle, chief of the Mountain View Fire Department, agrees with Rammohan. "Any time you save time you're saving muscle," Wardle said. "If we shave five minutes off that is significant."

Systems similar to Lifenet have been around for years, Wardle said. However, none of the devices he has used in his career have been as comprehensive.

For starters, Wardle said, the Lifenet ECG reads electrical pulses from 12 contact points on the body, which gives a much clearer readout than the three-contact-point ECG machines the fire department's paramedics used before Lifenet.

Additionally, Wardle said, many previous systems only allowed emergency technicians to print out a copy of the ECG in the ambulance, so cardiologists had to wait for patients to arrive before deciding on the best course of treatment. The machines that could transmit remotely, he said, relied on fax machines which produce poor quality readouts.

"This is as advanced as it gets in the field," he said. "I think the citizens of Mountain View can be a little more comfortable to know that if a cardiac emergency occurs, we are using the latest technology to address those issues."


Like this comment
Posted by Dixie McCall
a resident of Whisman Station
on Aug 11, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Didn't they have this technology back in the 1970s on "Emergency!" when Gage and DeSoto sent EKGs to Rampart?

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