BlackBerry: Saving Heart-Attack Victims with Handhelds

Modern medicine and technology go hand-in-hand. For years, we've come to associate a hospital not only with the patients it houses and medical professionals who work there, but also the machines and gadgets that aid doctors and nurses in our care

Modern medicine and technology go hand-in-hand. For years, we've come to associate a hospital not only with the patients it houses and medical professionals who work there, but also the machines and gadgets that aid doctors and nurses in our care. As we see in person, or on episodes of ER, we recognize the blood-pressure sleeves, the beeping heart-rate monitors, and IV machines.

But wireless technology is really just now coming of age in the medical field. For example, emergency room physicians and surgeons are some of the few modern professionals who still carry around pagers. Yes, pagers.

That seems to be changing, however. In fact, doctors and nurses are surrendering their antiquated gadgets of yesterday in exchange for today's powerful, cutting-edge smartphones, says Fraser Edward, BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion's (RIM) Manager of Market Development for Healthcare.

Many medical professionals have resisted the move from traditional "feature" cell phones, pagers, recorders and other "old-school" gadgets to smartphones due to security concerns and comfort with existing technologies, says Fraser. This made BlackBerry an attractive device for moving to the next wave of mobile technology. RIM has a reputation in the mobile industry of having the strongest (and most strict) security safeguards.

Dr. Divya Shroff, chief of staff for informatics at the Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center (DCVAMC), agreed as she began to usher in more modern smartphones for her doctors. In fact, the DCVAMC has been successfully using a custom BlackBerry application for heart-specialists for more than six months.

(For additional innovative ways smartphones are being used in medical environments, read "Dr. BlackBerry: Eight Apps Making Medicine More Mobile.")

Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the EKG Smartphone Project

The Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center is one of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) 153 nation-wide medical centers. The department also has some 737 community-based outpatient clinics, 225 vet centers, 135 nursing homes and 47 "domiciliaries." (About half of all U.S. healthcare professionals have some sort of VA training, including more than 65% of practicing medical doctors, according to the VA.)

Aside from being big, the department has also made a lot of news the past year. During his campaign for the White House, President Obama made medical and psychiatric care for veterans a high priority in his platform. He wanted them to be operating in a more comprehensive way, and, as it likely implies, that means staff must communicate effectively.

That's where Dr. Shroff comes in. She came to DCVAMC as an internal medicine physician a little more than six years ago. She quickly "fell in love with the IT side of medicine," and has become the center's de facto "CMIO," or Chief Medical Information Officer. She works closely with the center's CIO, but still regularly sees patients.

"The U.S. VA has been on the cutting-edge of technology advancement for the past decade," Divya says, citing its widespread use of electronic medical records (EMR), as an example. The DCVAMC's Electrocardiogram (EKG) Smartphone Project is just the latest illustration of the VA's commitment to medical technology, according to Divya.

Due to the department's robust EMR initiative, much of its patient data is already available electronically. Such an online format creates fewer challenges in the effort to bring such information to mobile devices, Divya says.

Why Cardiologists and Why mVisum?

In the consumer world, mobile devices are hot. Reviewers drool over Apple's iPhone, the Palm Pre and BlackBerry handhelds. As she watched the evolution of smartphones, Shroff started to envision ways in which they could be used to help DCVAMC's staff do their jobs better and more effectively.

After some research, perusing the available smartphone applications and the mobile platforms on which they run, Divya decided on mVisum and BlackBerry. She saw huge potential in the app for cardiologists and their patients. RIM's proven security safeguards built into its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) also made BlackBerry devices a natural choice--though Divya was quick to note that she's not stuck on BlackBerrys by any means.

Dr. Shroff and her team at DCVAMC launched mVisum in January 2009. mVisum helps cardiologists remotely diagnosis heart-attack-types and quickly communicate with relevant people who are working to help the patient. mVisum can vastly decrease the time it takes to get patients into appropriate treatment by making high-quality--and secure--EKG readings available to cardiologists on their smartphones. This way, they don't necessary need to be inside the hospital. In the past, DCVAMC staff had to first locate--and occasionally wake up--off-site "interventional cardiologists" and then determine the quickest and most efficient way to distribute EKGs for diagnoses. One other upside: mVisum can also potentially reduce hospital stays for patients, saving time and money for all involved, and getting those patients home faster.

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