PC Based EKG
The Need for Digital Solutions

A key challenge that medical professionals face as they progress into the 21st century is coping with the largest population of elderly people in its history. According to the 2001 Heart and Stroke Statistical Update issued by the American Heart Association, the number of deaths caused by cardiovascular disease has increased in part because the elderly U.S. population continues to increase as a percentage of the total population.

Cardiovascular diseases account for about 950,000 deaths annually, representing the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. Presently, 60.8 million Americans have one or more types of cardiovascular diseases, such as:

  • High blood pressure: 50 million
  • Coronary heart disease: 12.4 million
  • Myocardial infarction: 7.3 million
  • Angina pectoris: 6.4 million
  • Stroke: 4.5 million
  • Congenital cardiovascular defects: 1 million
  • Congestive heart failure: 4.7 million

According to Managed Care Trends by Medical Data International, 30 million ECGs are performed every year to detect and effectively treat cardiovascular disease. By 2001, more than 72 million ECGs are expected to be performed per year. This makes the ECG one of the most requested diagnostic tests.

Digital diagnostic technologies, specifically ECG instrumentation , can help treat patients more effectively by ensuring that physiological data is accurately obtained, documented, protected and easily transferred electronically. Digital ECG devices enable physicians to impart a faster, more accurate diagnosis than previous instrumentation. That saves time and money.

Digital Diagnostics:

While sufficient for collecting a patient’s physiological data, ECG cannot be easily integrated into the digital arena. The current process of scanning records into the EMR requires large storage capabilities (600k), which are significantly reduced by the use of digital storage (16k).

Digital diagnostic solutions virtually eliminate the need for storing hard copies of patient records. They can help healthcare providers reduce required storage space as well as the labor to organize and maintain patient records.

Today’s digital diagnostic ECGs have a software user interface that mimics the operation of a traditional ECG machine. The end result is a clear, high-resolution image that maintains its fidelity and is easily reproduced any time, any place.

The digital ECG is stored in a local computer or a central network. Physiological information is instantaneously stored and easily accessible for future viewing and editing across the network. Users have the ability to view patient data in a variety of ways, offering a zoom in/zoom out approach. The ECG can also be made available through the network to satellite locations.

The digital ECG costs significantly less than a traditional machine and is more compact. Additionally, all the information from the scan can be emailed directly to another physician, which allows them to see a clear image of the patient. This also helps when sending an entire patient’s record to another office.

Implementing Digital Diagnostics:

The only way to ensure that the exam room of the future will be thoroughly integrated is to purchase equipment for both the back and front office that is capable of such integration.

When implementing digital diagnostic equipment, providers should make sure that their computers and equipment have the following provisions:

  • USB/serial ports.
  • Modem for fax and Internet connections.
  • Current software from a manufacturer with a proven track record.
  • An open architecture to enable communication with other programs.

Digital ECG instrumentation that uses Microsoft’s ActiveX for Healthcare Controls provides an effective choice for environments that intend to implement electronic medical records in the future, but have not yet done so. The open architecture of ECG and otherdiagnostic software provided with ActiveX allows the program to be easily integrated with other software applications, including current and emerging EMR products.

ActiveX allows for file storage that includes both text and graphics. The graphics are completely reproducible as they are recorded. This is particularly important because some file formats, such as .tif and bitmaps, are not exactly reproduced and limit the physician’s ability to accurately diagnose the patient.

What’s in Store:

Unlike traditional medical devices, the digital devices of the future will have the built-in capability to take the patient’s blood pressure, temperature, pulse oximetry, ECG, Holter test, spirometry and stress test, as well as perform testing such as vision, and then record all of results automatically into the electronic medical record.

Medical practices and healthcare organizations can immediately reap the benefits and advantages of digital ECGs. The key to a successful implementation is to begin archiving transactions in the office digitally. Once this begins, the transition will be smooth and successful. By taking this approach, doctors can take what will someday be a consequential financial commitment and break it down into smaller, more gradual investments.

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