Cardiac Electrophysiologist Wayne Adkisson, MD, uses all types of advanced medical technology to diagnose and treat heart disease. But these days, his most effective tools may be commonplace devices most of us employ: a telephone, a computer and an Internet connection.
Adkisson is in the vanguard of the M Health Heart Care telemedicine program, which brings our specialized medical expertise to people hours away from the Twin Cities, in towns and rural areas across Minnesota and adjoining states.
“With telemedicine, we can do everything except touch the patient,” Adkisson said. “I use a video link to talk with them while a nurse moves the camera to locations I need to see close-up.” Often, the nurse also holds a digital stethoscope that enables Adkisson to monitor the patient’s heartbeat.
Phyllis Boudreau, an 85-year-old Hibbing resident, is one of the program’s first patients. In June, she began feeling disoriented and noticed what she could only describe as “little bubbles breaking inside my body.” At first, local emergency room doctors believed the cause of Boudreau’s symptoms was an inner ear virus known to produce vertigo in patients.
But after two more trips to the ER, Boudreau was referred to Duluth, where doctors diagnosed her real problem: an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is caused by disordered electrical signals in the heart which tell the muscle to contract rapidly and in a chaotic manner. The condition can lead to blood clots forming in the heart, which raises a patient’s risk of a stroke.
Adkisson sees patients at Fairview Range Medical Center in Hibbing twice a month, but was unable to see Boudreau in person at the time of her diagnosis.
Thanks to telemedicine, however, Adkisson was able to treat Boudreau and prescribe medication to help her manage her atrial fibrillation. They also discussed long-term care options for Boudreau.
Atrial fibrillation treatment can range from ongoing monitoring with medication to cardioversion therapy, which uses electric stimulation to restore the heart’s normal rhythms. Specialists can also perform a medical ablation—a procedure that destroys or isolates the source of the abnormal electrical signals.
Boudreau is grateful for the care she received without a three- or four-hour drive to the Twin Cities. Boudreau’s condition is being monitored, and she has since received cardioversion therapy to treat atrial fibrillation.
Adkisson says the M Health Heart Care foray into telemedicine has gone so well that he hopes it will become available throughout the region.“There’s never going to be a surgery-care center with specialists and sub-specialists within 30 minutes driving time of every location in Minnesota. So telemedicine very much makes sense.”