What is Telecardiology?

By Dr Liji Thomas, MD

Telecardiology is a modern medical practice, which uses the power of telecommunications to achieve remote diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. This includes coronary heart disease, chronic and acute, as well as arrhythmias, congestive cardiac failure and sudden cardiac arrest.

In this situation, doctors and other healthcare providers use electrocardiographic data, which is transmitted remotely, in real time, for interpretation by a specialist. It enables specialist care to be accessed by people in remote locations. Advancing technology is making it easier and less expensive to set up wireless or satellite networks for this purpose, increasing their effectiveness and ease. .

How telecardiology works

The practice of telecardiology depends upon the availability of a specialized device, which not only takes and records a 12-lead ECG in the primary care setting, but also transmits the ECG image in the form of a sound signal over the telephone line.

At the other end, namely, the telecardiology facility, it is converted back into an image on screen. After specialists interpret it, an oral report is quickly sent, while a written summary is emailed or faxed to the patient hub. All ECGs are stored in an electronic database at the telecardiology center, to enable future comparison of ECGs for the same patient over time.

Single-lead ECG machines are available in the form of a watch-like device to enable quick monitoring when the patient needs it, while still at home. This allows for a better interpretation and diagnosis of the disease condition.

This device can store the images recorded, and transmit them once the patient reaches the GP’s office. The advantage is that the patient need not wait to reach the doctor’s office, but can record the ECG as and when symptoms are present.  

Benefits of telecardiology

The primary use of telecardiology is the support it gives to primary care practitioners in the area of correct diagnosis, thus empowering them to manage cardiac patients with increased confidence. This is good for the patient and the healthcare system.

It also improves the clinical training of the average practitioner, by increasing the clinician’s level of knowledge at primary level. Thus it equips GPs to offer better care. This applies to the diagnosis and management of pediatric heart disease, chronic cardiac failure and emergency events like myocardial infarctions. It can cut down consulting time to a quarter, and afford high-quality care when it is most needed.

Telecardiology also helps enormously to reduce the percentage of missed cardiac events. For instance, the single-lead ECG device is more efficient at detecting or monitoring arrhythmias than a Holter machine, because it can be worn all the time, and because it can be easily switched on when the patient feels there is something wrong with the heartbeat. This helps to pick up arrhythmias, as well as to monitor them during the course of treatment.

Telecardiology is very useful for long-term monitoring of multiple coronary heart disease risk factors, such as hypertension or hypercholesterolemia. The results are comparable with those of face-to-face monitoring.

The availability of telecardiology has also been shown to dramatically cut down on the door-to-balloon time, which is the time that elapses between a patient’s hospital admission and angioplasty, when required. Telecardiology makes a diagnosis to be made, and allows the required personnel to be prepared for the patient even before admission, cutting down on the time to surgery and preventing further muscle damage.

Telecardiology devices are small and portable, which means they can be easily moved to the patient’s side to make a quicker and more accurate diagnosis. Telecardiology has the proven ability to improve the quality of health care, increase cost-effectiveness and save lives.

It makes the diagnosis of acute coronary events faster and more convenient, increases access to specialist care, ensures greater efficiency of patient triage and management, and lowers the burden on secondary referral hospitals.



Further Reading

Last Updated: Nov 15, 2015

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