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New technology speeds heart diagnosis and treatment

Bookmark and Share Picture this: It's 2 am and you're jolted awake from chest pains. You're rushed to the hospital, and the attending physician in the emergency room immediately performs an electrocardiogram (EKG) to determine the cause of your pain.

Your cardiologist is at home; the house is silent until the phone wakes him up. The urgent voice of the attending physician asks him to evaluate the EKG results immediately. Rather than grabbing a coat and rushing to the hospital, your cardiologist switches on his computer, logs onto the Internet, and pulls up your EKG. He reviews your test, types in his evaluation, and sends it back to the attending physician for diagnosis in just minutes — the time it would take for him to drive to the hospital.

This scenario did not come from the TV show, ER, or from a movie set in 2020. The technology is now available at Virtua Health, allowing physicians to diagnose heart problems quickly and start treatment immediately.

In the heart business, time is muscle
An EKG is the important first test performed when someone complains of chest pains. It measures the frequency and regularity of heart rhythm and can detect irregular heartbeats and possible damage to the heart muscle.

"Every second of delay after the onset of a heart attack translates to a significant, permanent loss of heart muscle," says Virtua Health cardiologist Vincent Spagnuolo, Jr, MD. "We need the right information right away for immediate treatment of the heart condition."

GE MUSE — a digital, wireless EKG system from General Electric — uses the power of computers and the Internet to help speed diagnosis. Previously, the EKG machine recorded the signals on a long paper tape. It was then evaluated by a cardiologist, typed into an official report, then filed in a chart for the physician to make a diagnosis. Now, MUSE speeds up the process to just minutes. It transforms the long paper tape into an electronic patient record that can be accessed by physicians via the web.

"The transfer is immediate," says Dr. Spagnuolo. "EKG results are transmitted right from the bedside to the computer. I can post my interpretation of the EKG online, and it's immediately available to the attending physician, who can begin discussing treatment options with the patient."

MUSE also saves EKG results and interpretations; so if needed, a physician can compare a patient's current EKG to a previous EKG.

Plans for the future
The next phase for MUSE will allow physicians to view EKG results right from their wireless handheld devices — anytime, anywhere. "MUSE saves time, effort and even a few trees," says Dr. Spagnuolo. "But most importantly, the technology helps produce information quickly, which allows a doctor to start treatment immediately."

For more information about GE MUSE or to schedule an appointment with a Virtua cardiologist, call 1-888-Virtua-3.

Physician profile
Vincent Spagnuolo, MD, a board-certified cardiologist, is co-medical director for Virtua's cardiac program of excellence. He is an active member of the New Jersey Cardiac Health Advisory Panel, which develops and reviews quality standards for cardiovascular care for the State Commissioner of Health. Dr. Spagnuolo received his medical degree from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and completed a residency in internal medicine at North Shore University Hospital and a fellowship in cardiology at Temple University Hospital.