High-tech cardiac monitors provide life-saving care to patients when minutes count
There’s a saying among emergency medical services when it comes to treating a heart attack: Time is muscle.
The quicker a patient in the throes of a heart attack can be diagnosed and treated, the more heart muscle that can be saved, which prevents additional health problems that can plague patients the rest of their lives and compromise quality of life.
Oftentimes, the first life-saving treatment a patient receives is at the hands of the EMTs and paramedics who arrive by ambulance to transport them to the hospital. In Emmet County, EMS crews are using the latest cardiac monitors that provide life-saving clues about their patients – crucial information needed to begin treatment as quickly as possible.
“In the EMS setting, we say, ‘Time is muscle,’ and that’s because your heart is a muscle. Those first few minutes are an extremely crucial time frame for us to begin treatment on a patient who is suffering a cardiac event,” said Calvin Penfold, Emmet County EMS paramedic and supervisor. “That is why it’s extremely important for people to call 9-1-1 when they are having chest pains or the associated symptoms of a heart attack. Damage can begin within minutes of a blockage.”
Penfold recently demonstrated the state-of-the-art cardiac monitors that are in use in the new Emmet County ambulances to the Ambulance Advisory Committee.
Advisory Committee member Lou Fantini was willing to be connected to the cardiac monitor for the demonstration, conducted by Penfold and paramedic Amanda Godin. As they connected the 12 leads to Fantini’s chest, they talked to the Ambulance Advisory Committee about the benefits of having such equipment on Emmet County’s rigs.
“These monitors give us great ability to diagnose problems with our patients in the pre-hospital setting,” Penfold said.
He explained that the cardiac monitors perform multiple functions, primarily for monitoring heart rhythms and irregularities that are the hallmark of a myocardial infarction, or a heart attack in layman’s terms.
The monitor checks the heart for rate, rhythm and rhythm disturbances. With 12 leads, numerous areas of the heart and surrounding structures are monitored. The information gathered by the EMTs and paramedics from the monitor is then called in to the hospital while the ambulance is en route, so staff can be prepared to receive the patient and begin the appropriate course of treatment in the shortest amount of time possible. In the near future, the data will be electronically transmitted to the hospital.
Many times, patients who are critical are able to bypass the ER and be brought directly to the cath lab at McLaren Northern Michigan Hospital to begin treatment to open blockages right away, preventing further damage that can occur in mere minutes. The data from the cardiac monitors that is compiled by the ambulance crew gives the hospital’s doctors a head start on how to best treat the incoming patient.
The cardiac monitors used in the Emmet County EMS ambulances also serve as defibrillators, when lethal arrhythmias are occurring in a patient’s heart. Penfold explained that when vessels to the heart become plugged, it irritates the heart. The heart then begins to quiver and not pump in its typical regular, organized patterns. In a matter of seconds, the patient could be lost. “This is cardiac death. This is when people collapse and they are non-responsive, they are dead,” Penfold said.
The padded, hands-free defibrillator pads are attached to the patient’s chest and wired to the cardiac monitor, and the shock immediately depolarizes, or stops, all cell activity. After the instantaneous shock, it is anticipated that the heart will restart in its normal rhythm. On a number of occasions, Penfold has witnessed the reawakening of patients who have gone into life-ending cardiac arrest, thanks to these portable defibrillators.
In addition, the cardiac monitor units can pace a heart rate for someone who may be suffering from a medical condition where the heart isn’t beating fast enough to keep them alive and functioning.
“These devices through the years have been continually updated and have better capabilities than the previous versions,” said Penfold, who has worked in emergency services since 1991. “They are much better at data collection and we can look second-by-second at the data as a tool in quality assurance in how that crew and that tool worked for that patient. We can go back and see everything that happened, second by second. Emmet County’s monitors are the top of the line and provide a great service to the public.”
In addition to the cardiac functions of the units, the monitors also take blood pressure readings and blood oxygen levels, as well as carbon dioxide emissions for patients who need to be intubated in the field, for instance.
“We use these every single day,” Penfold said. “They offer many functions, and it is a valuable tool in checking the overall well-being of the patient.”