BALTIMORE -- Every second counts during a heart attack. That's why St. Joseph Medical Center and Baltimore County EMS have teamed up to install new technology in 15 county ambulances that doctors say may get patients treated up to 15 minutes sooner.
"The ability to shave off a little bit of time may make a big difference," said Dr. Mark Midei, director of cardiac catheterization at the hospital. "It may mean the difference between life and death or disability and being able to return to work after [a heart attack]," he said.
The new technology, installed into 25 percent of the county's ambulance fleet as part of a six-month pilot program, allows paramedics to wirelessly transmit electrocardiograms, or EKGs, recording the heart's activity directly to the hospital's Emergency Department. There, a doctor can interpret the reading and make a plan for treatment before the patient even arrives on site.
"Now with this technology, the pressure is off [the paramedics]," said Dr. Gail Cunningham, chief of the Emergency Department at the medical center. "They're focusing on the patient. We're focusing on the EKG. "
According to Cunningham, it takes St. Joseph's an average of 50 minutes between when a patient is picked up by paramedics and when his arteries are reopened in the emergency room. Cunningham said this is about 40 minutes faster than the national average.
"If I could shave off five or 10 minutes [more], I'd be delighted," Midei said.
Called the LifeNet STEMI Management Solution system, the new technology is specifically aimed at reducing the treatment time for STEMI heart attack victims. STEMI heart attacks require immediate treatment and are "the most lethal type of heart attack," Midei said.
"This is the type of heart attack most likely to cut people down in their prime," he added.
According to Cunningham, the program will cost $22,000 to operate for six months.
EMS Captain Steve Adelsberger said that he expects to see other hospitals implement the technology in the future.
"This is where treatment of heart attack prevention is moving nationally," he said.