Heart monitorning available from home


As a long-time reporter in the Bay Area, Aaron Edwards is more used to asking the questions than answering them.

But the answers he gives today could save his life. That's because, at age 88, the veteran journalist is suffering from congestive heart failure. And the machine he talks to every morning is literally giving him a checkup.

"It takes all my vital signs and keeps them, and is examining them everyday," said Edwards.

Kaiser Permanente introduced the at-home telemonitoring system for its heart patients in the Bay Area several months ago. The machine runs patients like Edwards through a battery of daily tests, designed to warn doctors of any change in their condition.

It can detect dangerous fluctuations in blood pressure, oxygen levels or a patient's weight and transmits the information via phone lines to a central database in Sacramento, where medical technicians examine it, and pass email alerts on to physicians.

"It's amazing, we'll see a patient on Friday, they're looking well, feeling well then on Monday we get an e-mail their weight went up eight pounds," said Kaiser Permanente cardiologist Dr. Robert Blumberg. "They might just slowly be gaining fluid without realizing it, then all of a sudden they couldn't breathe, then they're in the ER. in distress. It's a terrible feeling like you're drowning."

Dr. Blumberg says a heart patient's condition can also be complicated by the dizzying array of medications they're prescribed. So the telemonitor asks yes or no questions, designed to alert doctors to any obvious side effects.

Nurses then follow up by phone, and while there is no statistical data yet on the program's effectiveness, doctors believe it gives far more control over the conditions of patients like Edwards.

"His prognosis over the next five years is quite good. Because he's doing quite well at this point in time," said Dr. Blumberg.

"I want to stick around. There is a lot I want to see, and a lot I want to do," said Edwards.

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