Western North Carolina is known for its long and winding roads. And while the scenic journeys add to the charm of our region, they can be a hindrance for those who need to travel for medical care. Anne Buchanan of Morganton knows this firsthand. The 77 year old frequently traveled to Mission Hospital in Asheville for medical appointments and hospital admissions due to her congestive heart failure. Now, thanks to pioneering technology offered through Mission’s Heart Failure Program, Buchanan is making that drive a lot less frequently.
The system that has helped reduce Buchanan’s need for in-person medical care is known as CardioMEMS. It allows doctors and nurses at Mission’s Heart Failure Program to monitor patients remotely through a wireless connection to an implanted device. CardioMEMS is the only FDA approved heart-failure monitoring system clinically proven to reduce hospital admissions.
“The CardioMEMS technology includes a small sensor that’s placed into the pulmonary artery,” said Benjamin Trichon, MD, medical director of the Heart Failure Program. “That sensor is capable of transmitting real time information about pressures in the heart and lungs on a day-to-day basis. With the capability to track these pressures remotely on a regular basis, we can examine trends and more accurately predict when patients will worsen and possibly require emergency care or admission to the hospital.”
The sensor works in coordination with a specially designed pillow that activates a wireless signal that sends the patient’s pressure readings to a secure website monitored by Dr. Trichon and his staff. Buchanan was the first Mission Health patient to start using the system, and she has been very happy with it.
“I’ve been using it for about two and a half years now,” Buchanan said. “Every morning, I get up and turn the machine on and lie on the pillow. The machine kind of talks to me and lets me know if I’m in the right position and how long to stay there. Then it just sends the readings right on to the Heart Failure advanced practitioners.”
If Buchanan’s readings indicate an issue, heart failure nurses will call and consult with her by phone. They will typically recommend that she make certain adjustments to her medications. If the readings are really abnormal, they will suggest she come to Asheville to get checked.
“It’s such a value to patients in western North Carolina for us to have this safe and novel technology,” said Dr. Trichon. “It makes the monitoring and tracking of remote patients so much easier because all they have to do is lie on their pillow. From there, all the pressure information is transmitted to us, and we can manage things over the phone.”
Buchanan said that even though she occasionally still has to travel to Asheville, it’s much less frequent than before. And most importantly, the visits are usually checkups. In the past they were, more often than not, hospital admissions.
“It has cut down on my trips to Asheville tremendously — and my hospital stays especially,” Buchanan said. “Before I got the CardioMEMS, I was in the hospital every six to eight weeks with my heart.”
In the past, Buchanan dealt with a lot of fluid buildup in her lungs and also had to have numerous cardiac ablations. An ablation is an energy-based procedure that helps patients with atrial fibrillation (AFib) get their hearts back in rhythm.
Buchanan said that she would often leave the hospital after an ablation, and her heart would be out of rhythm again before she got down the mountain. It was because she had so many of these difficulties that the Heart Failure Program doctors thought she was the ideal candidate for the CardioMEMS.
The reason the CardioMEMS is so good at reducing hospital admissions is that it helps identify problems in patients before they get to the point where they need hospitalization.
“Typically, when a heart failure patient is admitted to the hospital, it’s due to congestion and fluid buildup that manifests as shortness of breath, swelling and rapid weight gain,” explained Dr. Trichon. “However, the pressures in the heart and lungs rise well before symptoms develop. When we make treatment adjustments purely on symptoms alone, it is often too late to avoid hospitalization or emergency care.”
“By having that pressure data, we can act more proactively upstream before the development of those symptoms, and we can adjust the patient’s medications to reduce the likelihood of hospital admission,” said Dr. Trichon.
“They let me know before I get in trouble,” said Buchanan. “This gives me peace of mind that if anything goes wrong either way, up or down, I’m going to hear from them.”
Improved Quality of Life
Thanks to the CardioMEM, Buchanan, who was once in the hospital almost every other month, has been able to avoid an admission since November. Her checkups have reduced, too, which has cut back on her hour-long (each way) drive to Mission.
However, the monitoring and resulting medication adjustments have provided Buchanan with more than just reduced hospital admissions; the system has also improved her overall health and well-being. For instance, she was recently able to go off her oxygen therapy during daytime hours because her readings have improved so much.
“It has helped me maintain a better life,” said Buchanan. “I’m thankful every day for the machine and for the doctors and nurses who work with me in managing my health.”
Benjamin Trichon, MD, is the medical director of the Heart Failure Program at Mission Health. For more information about Mission Heart, call 828-274-6000 or visit missionhealth.org/heart.