Published on January 06, 2017

A Bluetooth-enabled Pacemaker Provides Flexibility to Patients

Smart technology tested at Cone Health can deliver convenience, reduce healthcare costs and provide greater freedom for people with pacemakers.

A pacemaker is a small device that uses mild electrical pulses to keep the heart beating at a normal rate. They’re used to treat arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation, and they store data about the heart of the person wearing one.

Having a pacemaker used to mean mandatory visits to the doctor’s office every few months to check the device’s performance and battery life and to download stored medical data about the person’s heart function. For many people, these visits were inconvenient, time-consuming and expensive.

But that’s changed.

Dr. James Allred

Dr. James Allred

Now, people with compatible Bluetooth-enabled pacemakers can send data to their doctors from virtually any location at virtually any time. Thanks to smart technology, staying connected with medical professionals has never been easier.

“This new technology makes it possible for heart patients to send information stored on their pacemakers to the doctor’s office using a smartphone or tablet from any location with cell or Wi-Fi signal,” says James Allred, MD, electrophysiologist with Cone Health Medical Group HeartCare. (Electrophysiology focuses on the electrical aspects of the heart that regulate crucial functions, such as heart rate.)

The remote data transmission system uses a Bluetooth-enabled pacemaker and a smart-device reader, and it transmits data with a personal smartphone or tablet. Data is sent to the person’s clinic or doctor’s office using a free app, which is available for Android and iPhone.

Cone Health’s electrophysiology program conducted a pilot of the technology with the first transmission sent in March 2015, Allred says. An early adopter of the technology, Cone Health is a global leader in establishing this technology as a standard of care for those in need of a pacemaker. For example, Allred was recently invited to Seoul, South Korea, to advise on establishing the use of remote pacemaker technology.

Greater freedom, improved health and reduced costs

A Bluetooth-enabled pacemaker system can reduce the need for routine, in-person doctor visits to download heart data and check pacemaker performance and effectiveness, and it can lessen the costs associated with those visits. That convenience is a big advantage.

“It’s great for people who travel,” Allred says. “I have a patient who drives a camper full time, and she had to interrupt her life on the road for pacemaker checkups. Now, she can use the app to send the data whenever and wherever she happens to be.”

Residents in retirement or nursing homes could also benefit from the new technology.

“It untethers patients from the landline,” he says. “Even family members visiting mom or grandma can use their smartphones to transmit pacemaker data.”

And the value of the new technology isn’t limited to routine data transfers.

“Maybe they’re out and about, and all of a sudden they’re experiencing fluttering or palpitations or chest pains,” Allred says. “It can be very scary. But they can immediately send a transmission to their doctor, and they should know pretty quickly if there’s anything to worry about or if they need to seek emergency help.”

An app for your heart that can deliver convenience, lower health care costs and provide greater freedom for people with pacemakers—that’s smart medicine.