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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 September 2007, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Expert heart monitoring from a distance
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Robert Burns
Robert Burns spends less time with medics
Robert Burns is very used to hospitals, not only does he work in one, but he also has a heart condition.

Robert was born with a congenital heart condition, which required open heart surgery and left him with heart rhythm problems since the age of two months old.

Now his heart rhythm needs to be checked regularly to ensure it is not beating too fast.

In 1997 he had a pacemaker fitted, but then in 2005 surgeons replaced it with a new state-of-the-art defibrillator to keep his heart rhythm regular and shock it if there is a problem.

Text alerts

Before this Robert, a 36-year-old NHS manager from Southampton, was having to go to the ward at Southampton University Hospital to be monitored.

But the new device includes specialist technology that means he can transmit the vital data wirelessly straight to his consultant through the internet.

The doctor is then alerted by text or email that a transmission of new data from their patients has been sent.

Now I can send the data and my consultant can look at it anytime
Robert Burns

Once an alert has been received, doctors can review the new patient data and provide care by either adjusting the device they use or changing their drug therapy if necessary.

"I have been using it for a year now. Before if I used to worry that I was having an 'episode' and starting to feel dizzy I would worry there was something wrong," said Robert.

"Now I can send the data and my consultant, Dr John Morgan, can look at it anytime. He can even access it if he is away from his office.

"This is a fantastic system for people who are elderly or find it difficult to get into hospital - some of the patients come from as far as the Isle of Wight or the Channel Islands"

And Robert said it also gave himself an added peace of mind.

Spotting problems

The system used by Robert is known as the Medtronic Carelink Network and was trialled for a year at Southampton.

It has now been given EU approval and doctors believe it will revolutionise care.

About 900,000 people in the UK currently suffer from heart failure and approximately 100,000 patients die from sudden cardiac death each year.

This could help to prevent repeated admissions to hospital and reduce distress for patients
Ellen Mason

Dr John Morgan, Professor of Cardiology at Southampton University, said: "This wireless technology is a major step forward in the management of chronic heart disease. For the first time, it allows us unprecedented, immediate access to patient data.

"The prompt alert of major disease progression allows any necessary review of patient therapy and prompt intervention if needed - in many cases there is a good chance we can avoid emergency admissions of patients with heart failure to hospitals.

"It means we do not have to see patients so often in the clinics and that means that there is also a considerable cost saving."

Personal touch

Ellen Mason, cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF) agreed that the system could prove a breakthrough.

"Heart failure can be unpredictable and as nearly a million people are estimated to be living with the condition in the UK, there is an increased need to monitor their condition.

"Subtle changes can occur in the body before a patient feels particularly unwell with an exacerbation of their heart failure.

"Therefore, this newly approved wireless telemonitoring device is interesting technologically as it sends a signal if fluid overload starts to build up or the heart rhythm starts to change for the worse.

This could help to prevent repeated admissions to hospital and reduce distress for patients."

But she added that the personal touch is always important as well, especially for the more isolated patients.

"We are already leading the way with our BHF Heart Nurses, who visit patients with chronic heart failure at their homes to monitor and treat their condition.

"This service provides patients with a more detailed clinical assessment so it reduces the need for hospital admissions and offers those who are housebound or alone the personal touch, which telemonitoring is unable to offer. "

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