The role of continuous monitoring in a 24/7 telecardiology consultation service—a feasibility study

Kjell Nikus, Jaakko Lähteenmäki, Pasi Lehto, Markku Eskola
Journal of Electrocardiology 2009, 42 (6): 473-80
Today's coronary care unit patients include those with complicated and uncomplicated myocardial infarction, decompensated heart failure and frank cardiogenic shock, severe valvular heart disease, high-grade conduction disturbances, and incessant ventricular arrhythmias. Increasingly in modern medicine, these conditions are not seen in isolation but rather in connection with a series of additional medical comorbidities. Increased life expectancy results in an increase in the prevalence of chronic cardiovascular diseases and an increased demand for health care services. Telemedicine is the provision of health care services, through the use of information and communication technology, in situations where the health care professional and the patient, or 2 health care professionals, are not in the same location. It involves the secure transmission of medical data and information, through text, sound, images, or other forms needed for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of a patient. Telecardiology is one of the oldest applications in telemedicine and has been largely applied during the last 10 to 20 years. This study evaluated the feasibility of remote surveillance of coronary care unit and cardiology ward patient monitoring data by a "telecardiologist" with access to electronic health care record data and digitally stored 12-lead electrocardiograms. The remote access to the hospital intranet proved to be technically feasible. Also, the server applications used over the remote connection proved to be reliable and showed robustness against network performance variations. Extending remote patient surveillance to other hospitals is possible, provided that similar electrocardiogram and electronic health care record applications are available and a remote access can be arranged to them. However, the usability from cardiologist's perspective may be degraded if connecting with multiple applications and hospital networks is needed. The study indicated potential for speeding up the diagnostic and therapeutic processes in the hospital, although the study was limited in that the telecardiologist played a passive role and did not acutely impact patient care. In the future, the system could be expanded to surveillance of smaller hospitals. Telemedicine has the potential to aid in solving the conflict between aging of population, rise in the demand for critical care services, and shortage of professional personnel. This might, however, require a more active remote surveillance than the one tested in this study. Privacy- and security-related aspects are major components of building trust and confidence in telemedicine systems. In telecardiology, the real-time interactive telemedicine model with 24/7 service has potential superior performance compared with a store-and-forward telemedicine model.

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