Aug. 30, 2011 (Paris) -- Home monitoring of a device that protects the heart is safe, suggest two French studies presented here at the European Society of Cardiology meeting.
Remote monitoring of patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) also reduced inappropriate shocks and extended battery life, according to one of the reports.
But whether home monitoring of ICDs actually improves patients' heart health and/or saves money are still the big questions, U.S. doctors say.
About 180,000 ICDs are implanted in the U.S. each year. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a long history of heart disease, had one implanted in 2001.
The battery-powered devices are designed to continuously monitor heart rhythms and shock the heart back into its normal rhythm when certain abnormal heart rhythms occur or the heart stops beating altogether.
Patients typically have to come to the clinic every three to six months so doctors can make sure their ICD is working correctly.
"But there are two major drawbacks to the in-clinic follow-up,” says researcher Philippe Mabo, MD, of the University Hospital of Rennes in France.
"They are time-consuming for both the patient and the clinic, and there's no link between the time of the appointment and [a heart problem] or device malfunction," he tells WebMD.
Now, remote monitoring of patients at home is available for many ICD models. Information on heart rhythms and shocks is stored and transmitted -- either continuously or at regular intervals -- via telephone lines or the Internet to a doctor's office.
One new study, called ECOST, involved 433 patients with ICDs. They were divided into two groups. The usual-care group came to the clinic every six months so doctors could ensure the devices were working correctly. The other group had continuous automatic wireless monitoring of their ICD. They were seen at the clinic only once a year, unless the remote monitoring detected a problem.
By 27 months later, people in the home monitoring group had received 52% fewer inappropriate shocks, compared with the usual-care patients. Eleven patients (5%) in the remote monitoring group had inappropriate shocks vs. 22 (10.4%) in the usual-care group.