Southampton heart patients use world's first mobile pacemaker station

Heart patients in Southampton are the first in the world to use a new mobile station to assess their pacemakers without the need for a nurse, doctor or visit to hospital.

The hi-tech CareLink Express, which is currently based at Bitterne Park Medical Centre as part of a pilot study, enables people fitted with the devices to have instant check-ups at times that suit them.

Its introduction, part of University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust’s remote monitoring programme, is designed to provide care closer to home, cut waiting times and missed appointments and free up staff to treat patients in hospital.

Pacemakers are small electronic devices implanted in the chest to help regulate patients’ heartbeats and regular monitoring allows experts to examine any changes in heart rhythm and intervene before patients become unwell or in need of hospital admission.

Patients with pacemakers routinely visit hospital for follow-up appointments once or twice a year, during which staff can spend around 20 minutes retrieving data during one-to-one consultations.

The mobile station means they do not need to attend fixed appointments – they head straight to the box, take a seat, follow the on-screen instructions and hold a monitor to their pacemaker for a few minutes.

Staffs are then able to access the data remotely through a secure server using a monitoring system known as CareLink and download it for review.

The innovation, which has been shortlisted for a Health Service Journal value in healthcare award, follows the introduction of the first walk-in pacemaker assessment booth at Southampton General Hospital in 2011.

“The pilot study has enabled a number of patients local to the surgery the opportunity to visit whenever they want and head home immediately after their assessment,” explained Hollie Cottrell, a cardiac physiologist at Southampton General.

“Once the team has evaluated their results, patients are sent a letter to inform them transmission was successful and when their next download is scheduled for.

“If we spot any problems with the data and want to investigate further, we contact patients at home to inform them of the outcome and what they need to do next – and this can all happen without a trip to hospital.”

Ms Cottrell is now working with colleagues to expand the service with the addition of another station in an area of west Hampshire.

She added: “We have 2,000 patients on the CareLink system and, by introducing another station, we will be able to offer more patients the option of visiting a more convenient site at times that suit them.”

Professor John Morgan, a consultant cardiologist and remote monitoring lead, said: “We are constantly looking at ways we can free up patients who don’t need to see medical staff from having to attend clinics while focusing staff time on the minority of patients who actually need to see a doctor.

“It’s the sort of innovation we need to see more of in the health service to improve the use of NHS resources.”

Posted on Monday 21 July 2014