New Montgomery County ambulance equipment will keep hearts on the beatin' path
Technology will help county hospitals quickly treat heart attack patients
The location and number of Adventist HealthCare hospitals was corrected in this story at 4:50 p.m. Nov. 17. For a full explaination, please see the bottom of the story.
Montgomery County ambulances soon will have new technology that instantly alerts hospitals of heart attack victims' information before they pull up to the emergency room.
Thanks to an agreement between four county hospitals to share the cost of the equipment, ambulances will be equipped with LIFENET, a communications system that sends electrocardiograms to the hospital while the heart attack patient is en route to the emergency room.
"Every minute counts," said Dr. Gaurov Dayal, chief medical officer and senior vice president for Adventist HealthCare. "So when a patient is picked up in an ambulance, and let's say they're 20 minutes from the hospital, we can get live feeds from what's going on with the patient and get creative with their treatment, so when they get to the hospital, we're ready to go."
The cost of the $138,000 LIFENET system which includes the equipment for ambulances and hospitals as well as installation will be shared between Rockville-based Adventist HealthCare's two county hospitals, Bethesda's Suburban Hospital and Silver Spring's Holy Cross Hospital. The shipment is currently on its way, at which point it will likely be installed in ambulances by the end of the year, according to Dr. Terry Jodrie, an emergency physician at Washington Adventist Hospital.
Paramedics now relay information verbally to the emergency room as the ambulance drives to the hospital, but doctors are not able to personally look at the EKG and contemplate treatment options. Under the new system, doctors would be able to print out the EKG, analyze the data and have a team of doctors assembled by the time the patient arrives.
Doctors have a 90-minute window from the time a patient arrives at the hospital to the time a balloon should be inserted in the clogged artery.
"The sooner the procedure is done, the better," Jodrie said. "We always say time is muscle. ... For every 30 minutes of delay, mortality doubles."
Jodrie estimated the new system could speed up procedures and treatment by 26 minutes. That means LIFENET could nearly cut a patient's likeliness to die in half, he said.
"The sooner the blockage in the heart is relieved and the heart is reoxygenated, the better the chance that person is walking out of the hospital sooner and with less lasting damage to the heart," said Assistant Chief Scott Graham of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue. "... It also decreases insurance companies' costs, because the patients get out of the hospital sooner with less damage to the heart."
This is not the first time competing Montgomery County hospitals have worked together; the hospitals worked together a few years ago to implement a smoking ban on all county hospital campuses.
The cost of equipping ambulances with LIFENET will not be passed along to patients, Jodrie said. Several other Maryland counties, including Prince George's County, either already have LIFENET or are awaiting installation, Dayal said. That means patients traveling between Montgomery and Prince George's county are covered, he said.
"Our mission and vision is to really create a healthy community," Dayal said. "So it's undebatable to us that better, timely information on a heart attack patient or any patient is of value. Yes, we did make a big investment, but even if one patient's life is saved because we had a little extra time to read the EKG, that's worth the money for us."
The original version of this story included the incorrect location and number of Adventist HealthCare hospitals. There are two Adventist HealthCare hospitals in the county, which brings the number of hospitals funding LIFENET to four. Adventist HealthCare is based in Rockville and has locations in Takoma Park and Shady Grove.