Bluetooth heart monitors could prevent thousands of strokes

Continuing the very international theme of this week's issue, we bring you news from just across the border in Windsor, Ontario, where researchers are starting to test whether new, wireless heart monitors can do a better job preventing strokes than older models that don't have continuous wireless connectivity.

"Patients could have uninterrupted, 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week monitoring and if there's any problem there'll be a call [to staff at a cardiology clinic by the monitor]," Dr. Wadea Tarhuni of Windsor Cardiac Centre tells the Windsor Star. "It could prevent 72,000 strokes in Canada every year." (Extrapolate those numbers to the U.S., which has 10 times the population of Canada, and you could be looking at preventing more than 700,000 strokes annually.)

Tarhuni and other cardiologists at the Windsor Cardiac Centre are working with with University of Windsor researchers to compare the efficacy of the European-developed, Bluetooth-enabled Vitaphone heart monitor with older technology that stroke patients wear to detect atrial fibrillation. The research project could take as long as 18 months and results may not be published for two years, but organizers could end the study early if the evidence turns out to be overwhelming in favor of one technology over the other.

Maher El-Masri, a University of Windsor nursing professor, believes the newer device is much more effective, but the researchers want some hard evidence. "With current technology we may be missing atrial fibrillation when it's occurring," El-Masri says.

According to Tarhuni, the Vitaphone monitor may detect atrial fibrillation as it's happening 66 percent of the time, while older devices only pick up life-threatening signals about 14 percent of the time. It can take as long as two weeks for patients to record and phone in monitoring data with traditional heart monitors. The new devices automatically transmit readings and can send send immediate alerts in case of an abnormal reading.

"If it prevents strokes we could save the government millions of dollars in healthcare costs if patients are able to get their anticoagulant on time," Tarhuni says. "We don't even need patients to show symptoms. Most of these are silent [incidents]. You may have been getting two-week-old data. Now you can get it in real time."

For further details about the technology and the study:
- take a look at this Windsor Star article