SALT LAKE CITY — Nancy Olsen has a new device that's almost like a portable doctor, a sentry if you will, monitoring her health 24 hours a day as part of a clinical trial involving 75 medical centers around the country.
Olsen, 75, has congestive heart failure. The device implanted just under the skin picks up all kinds of data from a small lead that runs inside an artery to her heart. It then transmits to a handheld monitor what she needs to know. At home, her internal watchdog notifies her four times a day exactly what's going on with her heart and what specific medicines she needs to take and how much.
The simple readout on a handheld monitor spells out exactly what she needs to do as if the doctor were standing at her side.
"It starts in the morning," Olsen said. "The alarm goes off. It has preset times when I should check my heart."
Olsen follows a normal routine at home. When needed, the sentry will ask questions about her activity level and whether she's experienced shortness of breath since the last checkup. It takes her temperature and measures the left atrial pressure in the heart. It looks and listens, dispatches all the information, then reviews the medicines and the exact dosages she needs to take at that time.
"It's able to tell us exactly what her body status is without guessing," said cardiologist Jeffrey Osborn, who is Olsen's doctor at Intermountain Medical Center and works with the trial.
The implants are customized to fit each patient's condition and any nuances in their metabolism.
"When I was young, if you had heart failure, you died," Olsen said. "This is really different. It's remarkable."
Oscorn believes what he is seeing in these early clinical trials is just the beginning. While many kinds of internal sentries are packing more and more electronics, they're also getting smaller and smaller.
"I think eventually, in the not too distant future, monitors will be injected into patients allowing us to watch them from home or from afar, little monitors that could tell us exactly what their heart rhythm is doing," Osborn said.
And not just heart rhythms. Future microscopic devices could float in the bloodstream monitoring almost anything that's measurable in every part of the body.
Osborn believes future heart sentries might even be tied into a GPS system that would automatically hail an ambulance when a patient's in trouble.
"The implants will revolutionize care if applied to the outpatient setting," he said. "It actually might be more predictive earlier on of a heart failure episode that's developing."