Specialized diagnostic evaluation and treatment can save lives and improve quality of life for patients struggling with cardiovascular diseases and disorders, but only if the necessary cardiology expertise is made readily available to those patients wherever they happen to live or receive their medical care. Practitioners may run the basic tests, but they still need access to the right combination of skills and technologies for timely, accurate interpretation of those tests. If your organization currently has no good solution to this dilemma, you should learn what you can about telecardiology, from how it works to the common types of cardiology test interpretation it can provide.
Logistical Challenges in Diagnostic Cardiology
Cardiological issues such as arrhythmia, congestive heart failure, tachycardia, and myocardial infarction require detailed, advanced diagnostic techniques by specialized personnel to confirm the condition in question, evaluate its severity, and recommend the proper course of treatment. While this need for specialized diagnostic care and treatment may pose no challenges for patients in major metropolitan areas, those based in small towns or other remote sites may have limited medical access beyond a primary care clinic. Even in the big cities, there are cardiac patients who may not be willing or able to commute to a cardiac facility just to have tests done, no matter how critical those tests may be to their health.
Telecardiology as a State-of-the-art Diagnostic Solution
Several branches of telemedicine, including telecardiology, have sprung up over the years to help solve such logistical challenges as easily, efficiently, and cost-effectively as possible. The earliest forms of telemedicine had to rely on phone and radio communications to transfer diagnostic data between primary care facilities and specialists. Today, email and streaming video technologies, coupled with advances in diagnostic imaging and other advanced diagnostic techniques, have made telemedicine faster, more precise, more widely available, and easier to use than ever before.
Telecardiology typically starts when a patient undergoes a basic ECG (electrocardiogram) or other common cardiovascular tests (see below) at a primary physician’s office or other such facility. The facility then relays the test data to the telecardiology center for interpretation by a team of experienced cardiology experts. The cardiology team can then advise the primary care provider as to the exact nature of the patient’s condition and whether the patient needs to see a cardiologist in person for treatment. This remote diagnostic step can spare patients the need to make expensive, inconvenient, and possibly unnecessary trips to a separate cardiology clinic. Telecardiology also allows primary care centers to offer a higher general standard of care for their patients without adding such specialists to their own in-house staff.
Telecardiology has demonstrated significant benefits as a diagnostic tool. Studies of patients with heart rhythm disorders indicate that it can reduce the time between diagnosis and treatment, reduce mortality among heart attack sufferers, identify problems that a simple screening might miss, and reduce the number of needless cardiology clinic referrals and visits.
Common Tests That Lend Themselves to Telecardiology
Telecardiology centers can analyze and interpret a variety of common heart and blood vessel diagnostic tests. The following examples give some indication of the diagnostic procedures that can convey life-saving information through telecardiology.
An electrocardiogram serves as one of the simplest ways to get a basic idea of heart function. Electrodes adhered to the body feed data to an EKG machine. This form of testing can establish a baseline heart rate and/or detect abnormalities such as irregular heartbeat or other changes following a cardiac event or installation of a pacemaker. A variation of this technology involves the use of a Holter monitor, a portable EKG unit that records up to 48 hours of heart activity while patients go about their everyday activities.
Echocardiogram tests, also referred to as echos, use ultrasound technology to create a graphic display of the heart’s movement and function. A handheld device emits high-frequency sound waves that bounce back in ways that the diagnostic machinery can turn into pictures. Echos, Doppler waves, and other data may be combined to reveal issues such as congenital heart disease, heart valve problems, and endocarditis.
Carotid and Venous Ultrasound Tests
Ultrasound imaging can also help specialists identify problems affecting blood flow in the body. Carotid ultrasound imaging can reveal narrowing or blockages that might result in a stroke if untreated. Venous ultrasound imaging looks for problems such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which can lead to fatal embolisms without prompt, expert care.
Coronary CT Angiogram (CTA)
A coronary CT angiogram, also referred to as a CT coronary angiogram or simply CTA, combines CT (computerized tomography) scanning techniques with the injection of a dye that shows up on X-ray images and makes blood vessels and blood flow patterns easier to see. Cardiologists use this diagnostic method to look for aneurysms, blocked or leaky blood vessels, blood clots, and tumors. This data can alert doctors to an elevated risk for stroke or heart attack so they can provide immediate intervention. It can also provide valuable information in preparation for cancer treatment or transplant surgery.
Nuclear Cardiology Imaging
Nuclear cardiology imaging involves the injection of a harmless radioactive tracing substance into the bloodstream. The energy emitted by this material then shows up as images on a device called a gamma camera. Specialists studying these images can then observe heart function and blood flow in the search for potential abnormalities. Nuclear cardiology can play a role in angiograms, stress tests, and positron emission tomography (PET) testing to examine heart scarring or recovery from cardiac procedures.
Telecardiology Services at Specialist Direct
If you want to provide your patients and/or medical associates with quick, accurate, expert cardiology services only to find that your location makes direct referrals to in-person cardiologists impossible, Specialist Direct’s telecardiology services may hold the answer to this challenge. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn more about our telecardiology and other other telemedicine programs.