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EDITIONS
Heartbeats down the phone
heart monitor
Telemedicine could cut out up to 40% of heart referrals
Europe's first heart telemedicine monitoring centre has opened in Wales.

The 24-hour centre, run by Lifesign, allows people with suspected heart problems to phone in their heartbeat for diagnosis by experts.

It was opened on Monday by Welsh Secretary Ron Davies and operates from an office in Cardiff Bay.

Recorders

Lifesign distributes credit card-sized recorders to GPs who give them to patients with suspected heart problems, such as palpitations and shortness of breath.

Phone
Heartbeat recordings can be sent down the phone
The patients use them for two weeks, recording their heartbeat in a variety of different situations.

They send the recording down the phone to the monitoring centre which sends an analysis back to the patient's GP for diagnosis. The patient may then be referred to a specialist for treatment.

The centre cuts out the average 25-week waiting time for referrals and is much cheaper than referring a patient for an initial consultation with a specialist. And it cuts out the need for patients to travel to distant specialist hospitals.

It costs 1,500 for an initial referral, compared with 65 for a two-week session with the recorder.

Waiting lists

Lifesign says 40% of patients who are currently referred for consultations do not have a heart problem. The monitoring centre means that these patients will not have to go to hospital, cutting down waiting lists.

Lifesign, which is operated by International Telemedicine Services, has been operating the service on a small scale from its West End office for 18 months and began five trials with hospital cardiology units around four months ago.

The telemonitoring service is unique because it cuts out the need for GPs to analyse the information gleaned from the recorder.

Unproven in the UK

Although the system has been used in the USA for around six years where it is now a $5bn industry, its effectiveness has yet to be proven in the UK.

Nevertheless, 1,600 GPs in 550 practices - around 13% of all GPs - have already signed up for the new monitoring centre, which is expected to employ up to 70 people.

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