New Smartphone-Connected Pacemaker Device Has Life-Saving Implications

“John” comes into the emergency room with feelings of an irregular heartbeat, saying he feels like his heart is rapidly fluttering. His wife says his heartbeat has been around 160 BPM for the last few weeks. He is diagnosed with arrhythmia, a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat; the heart can beat faster than normal (tachycardia), slower than normal (bradycardia), or irregular and fast (atrial fibrillation). After spending 2 weeks in the hospital, he is discharged with a pacemaker cardiac implant to regulate his heartbeat [1]. Cardiac implants like pacemakers help assist the heart in contracting and pumping through electric impulses, thereby regulating arrhythmias. Once the implant is in, monitoring these devices remotely is crucial, and usually happens in the form of a bedside console that transmits the pacemaker data to the physician. However, for the average patient, it is hard to understand how pacemakers work, which makes remote monitoring and adherence difficult [2].


Remote monitoring involves having equipment by a patient’s bedside to remotely transmit data to their physician. Tracking can only take place from home, and patients are not aware of their own cardiac health until they consult a physician [3]. Because patients do not have access to their own data, they are not aware of crucial information, such as whether they are on the verge of a cardiac emergency until it's too late. Additionally, it is difficult for patients to monitor their own data over extended periods of time to manage their cardiac health.


Fortunately, Medtronic has the solution. They have patented Bluetooth pacemakers that, when paired with a mobile app, can help patients gain a greater understanding of their health, and more readily share health information with physicians [2]. Bluetooth low-energy technology allows for higher adherence to remote monitoring in pacemaker patients. Higher adherence translates into minimizing time and costs to visit the doctor’s office. With healthcare professionals receiving a higher rate of transmissions from a higher adherence rate, this can lead to improving outcomes such as early arrhythmia detection [4].


According to the BlueSync Field Evaluation, a prospective, international cohort evaluation, researchers had found that patients using Bluetooth low-energy monitoring had a 94.6% success rate for successful transmissions, which was higher than the transmission rates of manual transmissions (56.3% success rate), wireless pacemakers (77% success rate), and wireless defibrillators (87.1%). This trend continued across age and sex cohorts. The high success rate of scheduled remote monitoring transmission for Bluetooth compared to traditional bedside consoles can improve patient engagement and adherence to remote monitoring [4].


All patients need is a smartphone or tablet to use Medtronic’s BlueSync® technology, and they can directly monitor a biventricular or new-gen pacemaker. With the MyCareLink Heart™ App, patients can directly access their data and see information like transmission history and activity tracker data, all with end-to-end encryption that ensures patient data is secure [5].


Outside of the study conducted, researchers also found that from the 811 patients that had a scheduled transmission, the success rate was 92.8%. The study’s principal investigator, Dr. Khaldoun Tarakji says that “our findings from our real-world assessment suggest that actual experience with this technology outside an investigative setting is similar to what we observed in the study” [5].


According to the makers of Medtronic, these Bluetooth transmissions allow faster treatment delivery because a physician is able to more reliably see a problem if it arises without the need for frequent doctor’s visits. This can in turn improve health through increased survival rates and shortened hospital stays via early detection [3].


Dr. Oussama Wazni at Cleveland Clinic says that patients knowing more about their health status by using the app can be “empowering as well as more convenient and reliable” [2]. He adds that patients think the “traditional remote monitoring technology is daunting or unwieldy” [2]. Earl Bakken was the first person to develop the wearable, external, battery-powered pacemaker back in 1957. Now 92, he says he also uses the app to “send his pacemaker transmissions from the comfort of his home” [6].


Is it time for the boomer generation to become more integrated with the digital world? With those 65 and older using pacemakers more than other generations, the potential for Bluetooth pacemaker technology can do just that [3]. I believe it is time that we transition all ages, even the older Americans, to the digitized world to take advantage of the endless possibilities in the growing field of medicine and technology.


References

  1. “Arrhythmia | Irregular Heartbeat.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 9 July 2021, https://medlineplus.gov/arrhythmia.html#:~:text=An%20arrhythmia%20is%20a%20problem,slowly%2C%20it%20is%20called%20bradycardia.

  2. Wheeler, Tracy. “Cleveland Clinic Unveils Top 10 Medical Innovations for 2021.” Cleveland Clinic Newsroom, Cleveland Clinic Newsroom, 3 June 2021, https://newsroom.clevelandclinic.org/2020/10/06/cleveland-clinic-unveils-top-10-medical-innovations-for-2021/.

  3. “Medtronic Enables Pacemaker Monitoring by Smartphone.” Healthcare IT News, 20 Nov. 2015, https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/medtronic-enables-pacemaker-monitoring-smartphone.

  4. Tarakji, Khaldoun G., et al. “Performance of First Pacemaker to Use Smart Device App for Remote Monitoring.” Heart Rhythm O2, Elsevier, 2 Aug. 2021, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666501821001252.

  5. Campbell, Glenn. “Direct Pacemaker Monitoring via Smartphone Enables High Rates of Transmission Success.” Consult QD, Consult QD, 21 Aug. 2021, https://consultqd.clevelandclinic.org/direct-pacemaker-monitoring-via-smartphone-enables-high-rates-of-transmission-success/.

  6. Curro, Sandro. “Patients Use Their Smartphones to Transmit Pacemaker Data.” Hospital News, 17 Jan. 2019, https://hospitalnews.com/patients-use-their-smartphones-to-transmit-pacemaker-data/.

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