The Internet has already revolutionised the way that we do business, make friends and find information. With the launch of Medtronic's CareLink Network in South Africa, remote medical monitoring will be taken to a new level within the local healthcare industry.

The Internet-based CareLink Network will enable patients with implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) to transmit data from their devices directly to their physicians as part of a 'virtual check-up'. ICDs are used in the treatment of arrhythmias (abnormal rhythms of the heart), which can lead to sudden cardiac death (SCD), a condition that kills approximately 50 000 people in South Africa every year.
Patients simply hold a hand-held antenna over the implanted device, and information on how their hearts and ICDs are working is downloaded on to the Medtronic CareLink Monitor and transmitted through a phone line to a secure website. Physicians can access this data – which is comparable to that gathered during an in-office check up – and make adjustments to the patient's medication or prescribe additional therapy, potentially without needing to see the patient in person.
Recently-available ICDs are also compatible with Medtronic's CareLink Network with Conexus Wireless Telemetry, which transmits patient and device data automatically to physicians. These hands-free transmissions will be sent through if the patient's device detects a problem, such as an arrhythmia.
CareLink not only offers a way to monitor devices but also a patient's clinical condition. The network remains the only system to allow remote monitoring and alerting of fluid buildup in the thoracic cavity, via the proprietary Medtronic OptiVol Fluid Status Monitoring feature available on select Medtronic ICDs. These two technologies have formed a powerful alliance in the battle against heart failure as OptiVol senses and alerts clinicians to impending pulmonary congestion, while CareLink allows for immediate access to the information needed to adjust treatment over the phone.
The CareLink Network therefore reduces doctor visits and emergency hospital admissions, easing the financial burden on patients and medical aids. CareLink also allows patients to stay connected to their physicians, even when travelling. Fewer physician visits will be particularly beneficial to patients living in rural areas in terms of both travel time and money saved.
"The introduction of the CareLink® Network to South Africa is set to have a major impact on the way that doctors connect with their patients," says Mike Howe-Ely, regional director of Medtronic. "We hope to improve significantly the quality of life of patients living with ICDs, who will be able to live with far more peace of mind, knowing that they can be in contact with their doctors wherever they are.
"Doctors will have the advantage of being able to access their patients' device data immediately and conveniently, and to intervene promptly if needed," Howe-Ely adds. "By ensuring that in-person appointments are scheduled only when necessary, we allow physicians greater control over their time and improve their patient management. CareLink will also reduce the demand on hospitals by allowing for more comprehensive monitoring at the primary care level."
The Medtronic CareLink Network was first introduced in the US in 2002 and is also available in most Western European countries. In South Africa, CareLink will also soon be compatible with pacemakers (a device used to regulate heart rate) and implantable cardiac monitors.