Hospital Sends Doc EKGs On Cell Phone

Wireless technology allows doctors to diagnose, treat faster

Larry Blakes, 53, was washing his car on a weekend afternoon in Southeast D.C. when the chest pains began.

"My chest started pounding real bad, I didn't know what it was," he said. "I started shaking."

Blakes was rushed to the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital. Way across town, nearly 30 miles away in Gaithersburg, Md., cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Reiner was sitting down at a deli.

"My family and I were having lunch," Reiner said.

But Reiner was carrying his BlackBerry.  That was all he needed to make a rapid diagnosis from a distance, and to get Blakes' life-saving treatment started immediately.

"Within a minute I'm looking at the EKG and we're making decisions and the team is being called in and indeed he was having a heart attack," Reiner said.

GW Hospital is using some brand new technology to make all this possible.  When the cardiologist isn't right there, the emergency room technicians need to share the patient's EKG with the doctor.  Making that happen can take too much valuable time:

Now, though, new technology, called mVisum, health care techs can rapidly and securely send a patient's EKG straight to a cell phone.

Time is the most important element when you're treating a heart attack patient. The faster doctors can diagnose a heart attack, the faster doctors can mobilize a team to treat.

"When the artery is closed, the heart muscle is dying," Reiner said. "There is a window of a few hours where you can meaningfully salvage of the heart muscle, meaningful heart recovery. Once you start to get out of that window, you don't get a lot of recovery."

Reiner said the goal is to treat the heart attack patient within an hour. The sooner it's diagnosed and treated, the better the chances of survival. Before he was able to see the patients' EKG on his cell phone, the hospital would fax the data to him. Even if he had access to a fax machine, the image was often poor quality. 

"If I happen to be in the car or on the road or in a restaurant somewhere, then there was no way practically to get it," Reiner said.

Now, all the data transmits clearly. It is sent without patient information and is only able to be accessed for a limited amount of time. That's to protect a patient's identity in case the phone is lost or stolen.

Blakes said if it wasn't for Reiner's quick diagnosis, he might not be here today.

"I didn't know whether I was going to make it or not," he said.

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