The internet has already revolutionised the way we do business, make friends and find information. Now, remote medical monitoring will be taken to a new level in South Africa.
A newly-launched internet-based network, called Medtronic Carelink, promises to enable patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) to transmit data from their devices directly to their physicians as part of a ‘virtual check-up’.
ICDs are used in the treatment of arrhythmias (abnormal rhythms of the heart), which can lead to sudden cardiac death (SCD), a condition that kills approximately 50 000 people in South Africa every year.
How it works
Patients simply hold a hand-held antenna over the implanted device, and information on how their hearts and ICDs are working is downloaded onto a monitor and transmitted through a phone line to a secure website.
Physicians can access this data, which is comparable to that gathered during an in-office check up, and make adjustments to the patient’s medication or prescribe additional therapy, potentially without needing to see the patient in person.
Currently available ICDs are compatible with this network which, through wireless telemetry, transmits patient and device data automatically to physicians. These hands-free transmissions are sent through if the patient’s device detects a problem, such as an arrhythmia.
The network not only offers a way to monitor devices, but also a way in which to monitor a patient’s clinical condition. The network remains the only system to allow remote monitoring and alerting of fluid build-up in the thoracic cavity.
It therefore reduces doctor's visits and emergency hospital admissions, easing the financial burden on patients and medical aids. It also allows patients to stay connected to their physicians, even when travelling. Fewer physician visits is particularly beneficial to patients living in rural areas in terms of both travel time and money saved.
Improving quality of life
“We hope to improve significantly the quality of life of patients living with ICDs, who will be able to live with far more peace of mind, knowing that they can be in contact with their doctors wherever they are," says Mike Howe-Ely, regional director of Medtronic.
“Doctors will have the advantage of being able to access their patients’ device data immediately and conveniently, and to intervene promptly if needed,” Howe-Ely continues. “By ensuring that in-person appointments are scheduled only when necessary, we allow physicians greater control over their time and improve their patient management."
It is hoped that the network will also reduce the demand on hospitals by allowing for more comprehensive monitoring at the primary-care level. It will also soon be compatible with pacemakers and implantable cardiac monitors.
(Cohn&Wolfe, July 2009)