New Tools for Helping Heart Patients

Gina Kolata in The New York Times:

Heart-articleLarge On a recent Monday, Helen Elzo got a call from her doctor’s office. A device implanted in her heart was not functioning. She needed to go to the hospital and have it replaced. She was aghast — her heart is damaged and, at any time, can start quivering instead of beating. If the device, a defibrillator, was unable to shock her heart back to normal, her life was in danger. In the old days, Mrs.Elzo, 73, who lives outside Tulsa, Okla., could have gone for months before the problem was discovered at a routine office visit. But she has a new defibrillator that communicates directly with her doctor, sending signals about its functions and setting off alarms if things go wrong.

On the horizon is an even smarter heart device, one that detects deterioration in various heart functions and tells the patient how to adjust medications. They are part of a new wave of smart implantable devices that is transforming the care of people with heart disease and creating a bonanza for researchers. The hope is that the devices, now being tested in clinical trials, will save lives, reduce medical expenses and nudge heart patients toward managing their symptoms much the way people with diabetes manage theirs. Patients, who often are frail or live far from their doctors, can be spared frequent office visits. Doctors can learn immediately if devices are malfunctioning or if patients’ hearts are starting to fail.

More here.