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A Running Start for Heart Help

FDA approval of hand-held ECG signals trend toward mobility in medical field

THURSDAY, Jan. 10, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- The world just got a little smaller, and safer, for heart patients.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week approved the world's first hand-held, portable electrocardiograph (ECG). The action comes closely on the heels of another FDA approval, that one for a portable heart monitor for patients with implanted defibrillators. Both approvals are part of the growing trend towards miniaturization and mobility in the medical field.

Larger ECG machines are mainstays in hospitals, doctors' offices and ambulances, where they are used as diagnostic tools -- they help detect abnormalities in heart function by measuring electrical impulses produced by the heart.

The Pocketview ECG, no bigger than a Palm Pilot and made by MicroMedical Industries Ltd. of Sydney, Australia, does everything its larger cousin does. For now, it will be used mostly by professionals who know how to read the machines.

"It's bringing the (ECG) to the patient," says Dr. Tareg Bey, a board-certified emergency physician and associate clinical professor at the University of California, Irvine.

"When patients are having chest pain in the field, the current thinking is if they could get a very prompt ECG, which could be transmitted quickly back to a base and read by a doctor, it might be able to help direct early therapy," says Dr. Sidney Smith, chief science officer of the American Heart Association. "Just the fact that it's more portable, when we're trying to get more information promptly in the field in patients that have heart attacks, could potentially be an advantage."

Many emergency medical technicians (EMTs) already use ECG machines that are about the size of a briefcase, but even those machines can be difficult to maneuver and have to be set up.

Most likely, the Pocketview will find its place in ambulances and with the same emergency medical technicians who currently use ECGs. In the future, though, it might also find a home with police and other early responders, says Smith.

The Pocketview is easier to use than a regular ECG machine, so professionals who are already trained in using ECGs should be able to make the switch with little effort, says Michael Spooner, managing director and chief executive officer of MicroMedical.

In the near future, an EMT might be able to take the device into a patient's bedroom, hook up the electrodes, take the reading and then send the data via wireless phone lines to any computer in the world. A doctor can then interpret the data from any computer.

"It will make a difference in how we triage a person," says Bey. "You can transmit the information to the hospital, the doctor can interpret and tell the paramedic how to triage."

The device's ability to reach out even over smaller distances may also save lives, he adds.

"Let's say you're on a resuscitation team in a hospital, and you have to go to the end of the corridor and you can't get the EKG machine there; this device can be brought in," says Bey.

Still, it will not change how diagnoses are made.

The Pocketview uses software modified from traditional ECG monitors. The device comes with 12 electrodes that are attached to the patient's body to monitor electrical activity. Spooner estimates the price of the product will be less than $1,000.

What To Do

For general information on every aspect of heart health, visit the American Heart Association.

For more details on the Pocketview, visit MicroMedical Industries.

SOURCES: Interviews with Tareg Bey, M.D., FACEP, ABMT, associate clinical professor, University of California, Irvine; Sidney Smith, M.D., chief science officer, American Heart Association, Dallas; Michael Spooner, managing director and chief executive officer, MicroMedical Industries Ltd., Sydney, Australia; Jan. 8, 2002, FDA press release; Jan. 8, 2002, MicroMedical press release
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