Telecardiology is a division of telehealth that allows a heart specialist to view electrocardiographic (ECG) images and to diagnose and treat heart disease remotely using telecommunication technologies. It enables people who live in remote locations who are at risk of heart disease, such as diabetics and patients with chronic kidney disease, hypertension or dyslipidaemia, for example, to be screened, and those with heart disease to gain access to potentially life-saving specialist cardiac care.
How Does Telecardiology Work?
Telecardiology involves the transmission of a 12-lead ECG recorded locally using specialized handheld ECG equipment, which is then viewed and interpreted by a cardiac specialist located remotely at a telecardiology facility. The ECG image is transmitted via a telephone line as a sound signal, and is then converted back into an image format that can be viewed by the specialist on a screen.
Once the cardiac specialist has analyzed the image, they are able to provide a telephonic report of the patient’s case, followed up with a written summary that is either faxed or emailed to the primary health care facility treating the patient. The patient’s ECG is stored in an electronic database at the remote telecardiology facility for future reference should the specialist need to compare more current ECG data with older historic ECG data for a patient at a later stage.
Patients can also be provided with a 1-lead tele-enabled ECG watch, which can be worn on the wrist like a normal watch. The patient can take an ECG recording by simply pushing a button when health-concerning symptoms occur. The ECG data is stored on the device and can be transmitted to the telecardiology facility for interpretation by a specialist once the patient visits his primary healthcare provider. This allows a patient to take an ECG recording when symptoms arise rather than having to wait to visit their doctor, when symptoms may not be evident and the ECG may not accurately reflect their health condition.
What Benefits Does Telecardiology Offer?
Telecardiology offers several benefits to patients, primary health care providers and cardiac specialists alike.
Empowers Primary Healthcare Providers — Telecardiology allows general health practitioners to screen patients at high risk of heart disease and to closely monitor and manage the health of their patients in collaboration with a heart specialist. This helps GPs gain experience and confidence in treating cardiac conditions and improves their knowledge of managing various heart conditions, which in turn helps to bridge the gap between primary and specialist health care, and ultimately improves the level of cardiac care provided.
Reduces Referrals to Cardiac Specialists — Patients with symptoms such as chest pain that are similar to those experienced by patients with acute coronary syndrome often visit their GP for a check-up. Less than 50% of patients referred to secondary emergency care are actually diagnosed with acute coronary syndrome. One study showed that 75% of patients with chronic chest pain who were referred to cardiologists were the result of non-heart-related causes. However, since health guidelines state that patients with suspected acute coronary syndrome presenting with chest pain must be referred to an emergency care center for specialist care, even if their ECG is normal, this places strain on the health care system which already faces significant financial constraints. Studies have shown that telecardiology services can help reduce the number of emergency care referrals. Reducing the number of unnecessary hospital referrals through accurate diagnoses via telecardiology can help reduce patient costs and also reduce the financial burden on the health system.
Helps Detect Cardiac Events that Would Otherwise be Missed — The use of 12-lead ECGs are useful for screening and detecting heart disease in at risk patients, while 1-lead ECGs — which are worn by the patient at all times and can be easily activated when needed — can help detect and monitor cardiac events such as an abnormal heartbeat that may otherwise be missed and go undetected.
Useful for Long-term Screening and Monitoring of At-Risk Patients — Telecardiology can help to screen, monitor, and detect chronic heart conditions in patients with heart disease risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Even though telecardiology is conducted remotely, it has proven to be just as effective as in-person monitoring of cardiac health.
Hospitalized Patients Receive Surgery Quicker — Telecardiology provides cardiac specialists and hospital staff with background information prior to a patient being admitted to the hospital for surgery. This reduces the “door-to-balloon time” as it speeds up the process and allows patients to be operated on sooner, which has been shown to reduce the risk of patient mortality.
Convenient, Easy to Use, and Portable — Telecardiology offers a more convenient method of monitoring and managing cardiac heath for both health professionals and patients. Since telecardiology devices are small, portable, and easy to use, they can be moved from one room to another, allowing a team of healthcare practitioners to share a single device for use amongst their patients. As they are also easily transported, they are particularly useful for GPs on call, or for screening and monitoring of heart conditions during community healthcare visits, especially in rural areas where access to healthcare facilities may be limited. Patients also enjoy the comfort and convenience of taking an ECG test at home or at their local health practitioner’s office rather than having to travel to a hospital.
Telecardiology offers several benefits to patients and healthcare practitioners alike. This revolutionary approach to managing heart disease can potentially save time, money, and lives.