New LifeNet system speeds treatment of heart attack

Howard County ambulances are using a new communications system that enables some heart attack victims to get faster, better treatment when they arrive at Howard County General Hospital.

Patients experiencing a STEMI — or ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction, which threatens the heart muscle and requires a balloon angioplasty and a stent to keep an artery open — would benefit from the new technology, officials said. The American Heart Association says 400,000 people suffer STEMI heart attacks each year in the United States.

The Web-based software system is combined with a device that enables emergency medical technicians to send electrocardiogram results from the ambulance to hospital staff. In the past, ambulance crews did EKGs but transmitted findings verbally via radio.

The new system enables doctors to get test results and begin making preparations for immediate treatment before the patient arrives, said Sharon Sopp, a spokeswoman for Howard County General.

The $60,000 LifeNet system, manufactured by a Redmond, Wash., firm called Physio-Control, was purchased by the Howard Hospital Foundation and is already in use. A ceremony is scheduled Monday outside the hospital emergency room.

Hospital and fire officials say heart attack victims treated within 90 minutes have a better chance of survival and recover more quickly.

"This vividly illustrates a perfect partnership between a health system and an EMS system, ultimately saving patients' lives," said Dr. Matthew Levy, an emergency room physician at Howard County General, who is also associate medical director for the county Fire Department.

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