May 17, 2010

Wireless EKG technology donated to Balto.

A consortium of five Baltimore hospitals, led by the Johns Hopkins Department of Emergency Medicine, has acquired and donated to Baltimore City new wireless technology able to transmit electrocardiograms from the field over the Internet to hospital-based medical specialists.

The donation to the Baltimore City Fire Department includes 36 broadband units, enough to equip every paramedic unit in the city and have others available during peak service periods. In addition, the five hospitals each have acquired and installed matching software so that emergency physicians and cardiologists can see EKG data as it’s transmitted by emergency responders.

“This is all about patients—getting the best technology and the best treatment to heart attack victims when they absolutely need it the most,” said James Scheulen, chief administrative officer for the Department of Emergency Medicine at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, who initiated the effort to acquire and donate the new technology to Baltimore. “This technology holds the potential to dramatically improve the treatment and outlook for heart attack patients.”

The consortium consists of The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Saint Agnes Hospital, Sinai Hospital and Union Memorial Hospital.

When the system is fully operational—sometime in the next month or so—emergency physicians at the five hospitals will be able to review EKG data in real time as it is sent remotely by city medic units. They’ll be able to quickly diagnose whether the patient is experiencing what’s known as an ST-elevation myocardial infarction, or STEMI, which is considered a very dangerous form of heart attack.

Hospital emergency teams also will be able to get appropriate intervention equipment and other resources ready before the patient even arrives at the hospital, thus saving critical time for doctors to intervene and protect heart muscle from serious damage.

Currently, hospital emergency teams wait for patients to arrive and then confirm their condition on an EKG machine before beginning treatment to limit heart muscle damage, usually with a balloon angioplasty or stents to reopen blood flow to the heart. Research and clinical experience have shown that the faster STEMI patients get appropriate treatment—known as “door-to-balloon” or “door-to-intervention” time—the more likely they are to have a strong recovery.

Hospital-based doctors will be able to get the real-time diagnostic-quality EKG data streamed to them on a variety of devices, including a PC, BlackBerry or smart phone.

Scheulen, who initiated talks with the other hospitals earlier this year to acquire and distribute the equipment, said that the consortium institutions moved quickly to form a partnership and get the job done as part of an ongoing commitment to improving health care in Baltimore.

“When the Emergency Department receives real-time information about a patient’s heart attack before the patient arrives at our doors, we’re better prepared to immediately treat them,” said Edward Bessman, director of Emergency Medicine at Bayview Medical Center. “This project is a great example of teamwork and technology truly saving lives and improving patient outcomes.”