New Wireless Pacemaker Helps Heart Patients Stay in Touch

September 9, 2009


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Doctors at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center’s Heart Center have implanted one of the first wireless pacemakers in the country and the first in the Triad.

Electrophysiologist Rick Henderson, M.D., said these new wireless pacemakers transmit additional information about the patient’s heart with greater frequency. This gives patients the advantage of fewer office visits – often a problem with heart patients living in rural areas – and quicker response to problems.

“The new device gives us information every day,” Henderson said. “It has the ability to detect changes that are programmed into the device so we can react quickly. It can report 24 hours a day, even when the patient is sleeping.”

All pacemakers have some type of transtelephonic monitoring system that can send data over a telephone line if needed, Henderson said. Patients with pacemakers come into the Heart Center’s device clinic to have their device ‘interrogated.’ This means checking the pacemaker for recorded arrhythmia or looking for problems with the device itself, such as a weak battery.

“With the wireless device, we can monitor the patient on a daily basis. The device is set to report back to us any abnormalities such as atrial fibrillation,” Henderson said. “For example, if a patient is having regular heart rhythm, but is having atrial fibrillation every now and then, the device will pick it up sooner and send the information through a transmitter to the device clinic.”

Wireless pacemakers are ideal for patients in remote areas who may have prolonged drive times for clinic visits. Where a patient lives and how far they are from medical centers will be a factor in who receives the device.

The three models of the wireless pacemaker, made by St. Jude Medical, include a single-chamber version that goes into the right ventricle, a double-chamber version that goes into the right ventricle and atria, and a third version for heart failure patients that goes into the right ventricle, the left ventricle and the artery.

Wireless devices will be used more frequently in the future, Henderson said, as well as leadless devices in which the pacemaker does not have to enter the vascular system. Another future possibility is that wireless devices could be used to monitor blood pressure.  

About 40 percent of the outpatient work done by electrophysiologists involves first-time implants. About 60 percent are generator changes on existing pacemakers.  It is estimated that more than three million people in the world have pacemakers with about 600,000 more implanted each year.

Henderson is part of a team of electrophysiologists at Wake Forest Baptist that includes David M. Fitzgerald, M.D., section head, Bryon E. Rubery, M.D., Tony W. Simmons, M.D., and Thomas Wannenburg, M.D.


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