By Joel Hall
Southern Regional Medical Center recently became the first hospital in the metro-Atlanta area to successfully implant a new kind of pacemaker that features wireless technology, hospital officials said.
The Accent RF (radio frequency) pacemaker, approved late last month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, allows doctors to monitor a patient's heart without the patient having to leave his or her home, the hospital said.
Amy Jo Meyer, spokesperson for St. Jude Medical, the maker of the Accent RF pacemaker, said a few dozen implants have taken place in various parts of the country since the device's approval on July 21. With a transmitter that uses a phone line, a pacemaker wearer can transmit important medical information about their heart to their doctor - while they are awake or asleep.
"At the most basic level, the device keeps the patient's heart beating at a normal rate," Meyer said. "With this device, those routine checkups that don't have to happen in the their doctor's office can happen at home while they are asleep. This is especially important for people who live far away from their hospital. They may have to travel hundreds of miles to have their doctor tell them everything is OK."
Meyer said a patient has to be within six feet of the receiving device in order to transmit data from the pacemaker. She added that those records are automatically transferred to a patient's electronic medical files.
Dr. Akshay Gupta, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Southern Regional, implanted the area's first Accent RF pacemaker on July 24, just three days after its FDA approval. He said that in addition to transmitting data, a doctor can use the same wireless technology at the doctor's office to adjust the rate and energy output of the pacemaker.
"We've had this technology for [implanted] defibrillators for some time, but we're just getting this technology in pacemakers," Gupta said. "Normally, to communicate with a pacemaker ... we would put a magnetic wand on the person's chest. The patient had to be present. Now you can have a wireless transmitter that just has to be in the room where the patient is.
"In the past, we would see a patient a few times a year," he continued. "With this, we are much more likely to catch problems sooner, before they develop. A lot of our patients are elderly and have transportation issues. This simplifies the patient's life."
Donna Waggoner, managing director of heart and vascular care for Southern Regional, said the hospital uses similar wireless technology to monitor patients under observation. She said the new technology employed by the Accent RF pacemaker may eventually be used at the hospital for other life-saving applications.
"For someone to be able to go home and be monitored wirelessly, we don't have that capability at this point," Waggoner said. "Think about people [who are taking] blood thinners. They have to be monitored closely. I think we'll eventually see glucose [levels] monitored. There are many applications of this technology and this is just one."