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Life-saving technology speeds heart attack care (February 17, 2011)

Paramedics can transmit data from field to hospital

When a person suffers a heart attack, time can literally be a matter of life and death. As each second passes, heart muscle is starving for oxygen and dying. And just a few minutes can make a huge difference.

To treat heart attack patients more quickly, Calvert Memorial Hospital and Calvert Advanced Life Support (CALS) have added the LIFENET system that allows paramedics to transmit EKG studies to the emergency department while they are transporting the patient to the hospital. An electrocardiogram or EKG, as it is commonly called, enables doctors to diagnose heart attacks that are in progress.

“It is a quantum leap beyond where we were a year ago,” said Capt. John Rigg, public information officer for CALS, of the new system, which went live last month.

According to Rigg, there are 16 LIFENET-equipped monitor/defibrillators stationed strategically throughout the county. He said that at least one ambulance in each of the county’s six fire and rescue districts has such a unit. Additionally, there is one at the nuclear power plant and each of the CALS paramedic chase vehicles has one onboard.

“The real-time communication between EMS and our hospital emergency department personnel has significant time-saving benefits,” said Stephanie Cleaveland, emergency department director at Calvert Memorial Hospital.

“By having the patient’s EKG in advance of arrival,” she said, “our ER physician and team can be ready for immediate treatment and transport, if needed, to a tertiary center.”

"When a paramedic performs an EKG on a patient, that EKG can be instantly transmitted with the touch of a button to an ER doctor via the LIEFNET system. The technology is the same as sending an email with a photo attachment through your phone or wireless computer.

“With this new technology, we’re able to get images that allow us to make earlier decisions that speed care,” said Dr. John Schnabel, director of emergency medical services at CMH.

“When we receive the EKG and it shows an acute heart attack,” said Schnabel, “with one call from us, the MedSTAR (medical helicopter) is on its way here before we even see the patient.”

According to Schnabel, Calvert has a longstanding relationship with Washington Hospital Center, one of the top-rated heart centers in the country, performing 19,000 interventional heart procedures and more than 1,800 open-heart surgeries each year. "We’re actually doing the best thing for the patient by transferring them to Washington Hospital Center," he said.

“There is more and more evidence that the quicker a heart attack patient is treated,” he said, “the better they do and this technology helps us do that.”

And the Washington Hospital Center vascular surgeons who staff Calvert Memorial’s vascular center ensure continuity of care once the patient returns home. The Center for Vascular Care at CMH provides diagnosis and treatment for a wide range of vascular disorders or conditions including carotid disease, lower extremity peripheral artery disease, aortic and thoracic aneurysms and renal stenosis.

Additionally, Calvert Memorial offers cardiac rehabilitation, which is designed to help those who have survived a heart attack or heart surgery make lifestyle changes – like becoming more active and watching their diet – that will help them lead healthier lives.

Shannon Stockton of Calvert Advanced Life Support shows the new LIFENET system that allows paramedics to transmit a heart attack patient’s EKG to the Calvert Memorial Hospital emergency department while they are in transport. This rapid delivery allows CM

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