Device can aid heart patients' survival rate
Local paramedics are used to being summoned to aid heart attack victims. In Mitchell, cardiac-related calls come in two or three times a week. Now, in less time than it takes the second hand to round a watch, paramedics can communicate to a hospi...
Local paramedics are used to being summoned to aid heart attack victims. In Mitchell, cardiac-related calls come in two or three times a week.
Now, in less time than it takes the second hand to round a watch, paramedics can communicate to a hospital everything doctors need to know about a patient having a heart attack -- before the patient even sets foot through hospital doors.
The city of Mitchell and Avera Queen of Peace Hospital recently teamed up to make a lifesaving purchase: a wireless modem for a heart defibrillator that actually transmits a patient's EKG (electrocardiography) readings to the hospital while the ambulance is en route.
Dr. Martin Christensen, who routinely trains paramedics, has been pushing for Mitchell to acquire the technology for a decade. Two weeks ago, the system went live.
In Christensen's words: "Mission complete."
In technical terminology, however, the system is a little more complicated.
It works like this: A Lifepak defibrillator takes electronic readings of a person's heart. A wireless modem then transmits those diagnostic-quality EKGs from the defibrillator to hospital emergency workers, who can begin preparing for a patient's arrival.
Though Mitchell acquired the monitor back in 1999, emergency workers just received the two wireless modems this winter. Mitchell is an ALS (advanced life support) provider for the area and, to the Mitchell emergency workers' knowledge, theirs is the only South Dakota community outside of Sioux Falls that has gone live between the ambulance and hospital.
Jodi Doering, director of the emergency department at Avera Queen of Peace, is certain the new form of ambulance-to-hospital communication will save lives.
"When you have a heart attack, you have a team of people who respond to that -- nurses, respiratory therapists, physicians, EKG techs, pharmacists. (Before), we weren't activating that team until after they dropped the patient off. This will allow us to have that team waiting at the door when the patient comes in," Doering said.
Doering often is on the receiving end of the wireless transmissions, which tell doctors and nurses what type of cardiac situation is headed their way. Medics can then plan medication and team members to have on hand and gauge whether or not the patient will require transportation to Sioux Falls.
The new system is especially beneficial for patients who experience a dangerous form of heart attack known as STEMI (ST elevation myocardial infarction). STEMI poses a serious threat to the heart muscle, and the quicker patients receive treatment, the more likely they are to have a positive outcome. The American Heart Association estimates that nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. experience STEMI every year.
"The bottom line is if you have an MI (myocardial infarction), we can diagnose it in the field, and then initiate better and faster treatment. That means better outcomes, less damage to the muscle, and overall better survival rate," Christensen said.
With the old method, an EKG would be performed at the scene and faxed to the hospital -- which could take several minutes and produce less-than-clear results -- or workers would wait to perform the procedure upon arriving at the hospital, which could take anywhere from five to 45 minutes, Doering said. Now EKG results can be transmitted to any hospital that also has the software.
The Mitchell ambulance team covers more than 900 square miles with four ambulances. Paramedics will use the transmitter for a number of patient symptoms, including chest pains, shortness of breath, history of cardiac problems or strokes, and faintness.
"They can get things going so much faster and see there's a problem with the patient before we're even leaving the scene," said Joe Dolezal, a Mitchell paramedic.
The system -- which emergency workers simply call STEMI -- is being paid for through donations to Avera Queen of Peace and funds raised at the emergency department's annual "Shoot for Shells" trap shoot.
"Time is heart muscle," Doering summed up. "This will save lives."