Long-Distance Cardiology

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A new defibrillator helps a California hospital take the next step in wireless technology.

These days you can do just about anything technology-related without being tethered to your desk—or your patient. Available wireless applications span the technological gamut, and hospitals employ a broad spectrum of wireless technology, whether it’s as simple as a Wi-Fi network or as intricate as a wireless patient-tracking system. In fact, more than 90% of medium and large hospitals say they either currently use wireless technology or have plans to adopt wireless technology in the future.

When it comes to wireless technology, El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, CA, sits squarely in the category of early adopter. In August, El Camino became one of the first hospitals in the nation to implant a new streamlined cardiac-resynchronization-therapy defibrillator (CRT-D) device that includes an enhanced wireless component capable of alerting the patient’s attending physician the moment it detects an irregularity. "We fully expect this to reduce hospitalization for congestive heart failure because we no longer have to wait until the patient comes in to be checked to determine if there are signs that something is going wrong," says Bing Liem, MD, the cardiologist who implanted the device and medical director of the cardiac electrophysiology and device laboratory program at the 395-licensed-bed hospital.

Liem says if a problem with either the device or the patient is detected, the attending physician is alerted through the wireless communication system built into the CRT-D. The implant uses a home communications hub plugged into a phone jack to transmit data over the Internet that the physician can access and use to monitor the patient. A reading indicating a device malfunction prompts the system to page the manufacturer and alert the patient.

The devices, from Boston Scientific of St. Paul, MN, are about 50% thinner than similar devices available on the market and have a longer battery life. "It’s a lot like the excitement surrounding the smaller, thinner cell phones that came out a couple years ago—we always want smaller, more convenient, and thinner. This device is just that," says Liem.

The CRT-D may not be the only emerging healthcare technology that mirrors innovations in the broader marketplace. Cathy Zatloukal, CEO at MobileAccess Networks, says she sees the future of wireless applications in hospitals following the commercial wireless market very closely. "Most of the trends we see come from commercial applications. As technology evolves in the commercial domain, we often see it being adopted in healthcare in a more productive way," she says.

—Kathryn Mackenzie

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