Remote Follow-up Care Offers Peace of Mind for Heart Patients

Diagnostic data can be transferred over the phone immediately after cardiac episode

August 06, 2003

For Juri Ilissoo, wearing a cardiac defibrillator since 1992 has meant many episodes during which his device shocked him in order to correct his heart rhythm and save his life. And after each episode, Ilissoo would contact his cardiologist and within a day or so report to the physician’s office, where data from his device detailing the episode would be transferred to a computer for review.

But now the 69-year-old Rush resident doesn’t have to worry about reporting to his cardiologist’s office if the device is activated: He is one of the first in the state to have the ability to transfer the medical data to his cardiologist’s computer via phone, from anywhere in the country.

Although he hasn’t yet had an episode that required him to use the new technology since he was given access to it in the spring, the freedom gives Ilissoo peace of mind. “I don’t worry too much about it, not the way my wife does, anyway, but being able to send information over the phone does make it easier to go places. We have more freedom.”

Convenience and security

The Strong Heart and Vascular Center at Strong Memorial Hospital is the first program in New York state and one of the first in the country to offer this unique technology. The system, called the Medtronic CareLink Network, facilitates communication between physicians and patients, providing convenience and a level of comfort when managing chronic heart disease.

“This is really revolutionary,” says James P. Daubert, M.D., director of electrophysiology laboratories at the Strong Heart and Vascular Center. “Prior to the debut of CareLink, patients typically stayed close to home, just in case their defibrillator went off. Now my patients can feel secure that I am available to them after an episode, even if they’re on vacation in Florida or visiting their grandchildren in California.”

More than 70 of Daubert’s patients now have access to the CareLink. Patients with a Medtronic defibrillator do not need to replace their current device - the technology is compatible with their existing defibrillator.

How it works

The patient is given a special monitor with an attachment similar to a computer mouse. In the event their defibrillator is activated and has corrected the heart’s rhythm, the mouse is placed on their chest over the area where the defibrillator is implanted. Diagnostic data regarding the patient’s heart rhythm and defibrillator function is transferred to the CareLink monitor, where it is stored temporarily. The monitor then sends the information through the phone line to a CareLink database where the cardiologist can immediately access the information via a secure Internet site.

“Typically patients are OK once the defibrillator has shocked their heart back into an acceptable rhythm,” Daubert says. “Follow-up care is often unnecessary since the defibrillator has already done its job, yet in the past patients were asked to come into the office the next day so we could extract their defibrillator data ourselves in an effort to record their episode. Now that step can be eliminated in many cases.”

Additionally, there are occasions when the cardiologist requests that data be sent via phone as a routine follow-up measure, which relieves the patient of having to pay a visit to the office and alleviates the physician’s clinic schedule, as well. “Patient care is enhanced on many levels, for those in the office and those who can use the CareLink system to simplify the process of monitoring of their health,” Daubert says.

CareLink is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use with several Medtronic defibrillator devices. In the future, CareLink is expected to be available for patients with pacemakers, heart failure devices and other diagnostic technology.

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Karin Christensen
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