In Portugal, doctors implant a small device under the skin which monitors cardiac patients for three years. An insertable loop recorder or cardiac monitor was first tested in 1997 but is now smaller and more sophisticated.
It is useful for patients with heart problems like palpitations, improving diagnosis and allowing for more specific treatment. More and more hospitals are using it.
Vitor Sanfins, a cardiologist at Guimaraes Hospital explained: “The patient does not need to come to the hospital so often, because the information is stored in the system. Some patients live two or three hours away so this system is very useful.”
Implanting the device under the skin takes 15 minutes and involves making an incision less than a centimetre long. This is the first device in an emerging field of long-term physiological monitoring devices.
Vitor Sanfins said: “This system allows us to take an electrocardiogram on a permanent basis, for three years. The hospital has access, via the internet , to the electrocardiograms, so they can see for example what was happening when a patient has fainted, regardless of where they were.”
It is now hoped to develop sensors to monitor blood pressure as well. This is vital because with ageing populations, health care budgets are becoming stretched and it’s important to use resources efficiently.