Minnesota-based companies see more high-tech medical device use during pandemic

Callan Gray
Updated: October 27, 2020 10:53 PM
Created: October 27, 2020 10:40 PM

Telehealth has taken off during the pandemic, with more patients choosing to see their physician remotely rather than visit the doctor’s office. It’s created a silver lining for companies that manufacture medical devices.

There’s been a surge in remote monitoring and programming technology use. It's an advantage especially to high risk patients.

“Just to know that I don’t have to go out there and risk my health from getting COVID, is just priceless,” said Dave Ogle, who suffered cardiac arrest in July 2019. Ogle has an implanted defibrillator. The device communicates with a bedside monitor. This connection has three important functions, according to Dr. Rob Kowal who is the chief medical officer for Medtronic’s Cardiac Rhythm and Heart Division.

“One is normal checks,” said Dr. Kowal. “Rather than come to the office every three months, we can schedule a check through the remote monitor to get the quarterly information out of the device so a physician can then go look at it.”

It can also send an alert to the staff at a clinic if there’s an unexpected problem with the patient’s heart or the defibrillator. 

“It may be the patient had a shock for a life-threatening rhythm and they developed some signs they're going into heart failure,” he said. “In that case, they would clinically get an alert with a red code, they’d take a look at that and then could either call the patient or send EMS if they needed to.”

Ogle doesn’t know why he went into cardiac arrest last year. His defibrillator was implanted later that month.

“They really have no idea why it could've happened, the doctors are dumbfounded,” said Ogle. “They can't explain it yet.”

He had just returned to Minnesota from a Fourth of July celebration in Iowa. He was sitting on the couch with his wife, Kris Patrow when he stopped breathing. She started CPR.

“It was kind of a miracle she was there, had she been upstairs or anywhere else, I wouldn’t be here” said Ogle. “I just don’t know, how many miracles do you get in your life? I think you’re lucky if you get one. I think I’ve used up all of my miracles but I don’t have to worry about that, I don’t need another miracle to save me again, I have this technology in my chest and by my bedside.”

Medtronic’s technology advanced even further at the beginning of 2020. Patients now getting an implanted defibrillator can use an app for remote monitoring, rather than the bedside device.

“Just happened to be coincidental we were ready to launch that at a time when we really needed it,” said Dr. Kowal. “While more clinics were kind of slowing down in that April, May, June time frame and we saw fewer devices going in, we saw remote monitoring device use go way up.”

Dr. Kowal told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they also have teams working on cases oversees, using remote technology to program devices. 

“Our programmers that normally require face to face, in-person, tactile interchange of information have the capability to be connected through a laptop, through a secure one-to-one connection,” he said.  “We’ve had that for five years, there hasn't been much interest in that until March, April, May when suddenly having more people in a room was not desired so this became an incredible capability."

Technology-based healthcare isn't limited to the heart. 

“What we’ve seen is a dramatic increase, roughly three or four times the adoption rate of our telehealth platform during this pandemic,” said Dr. Dave Fabry, the chief innovation officer at Starkey Hearing Technologies. “I think it’s essential, especially during these times.”

He said they’ve had remote tuning technology for about 25 years but adoption rates were low until the pandemic.

“We saw the increase begin in March,” said Dr. Fabry. “When we look at the statistic, they were going along a steady rate, at relatively small proportions like many other disciplines and then it just spiked.”

Dr. Fabry showed us how hearing devices can be managed through their app. 

“She’s in Minneapolis but she’s away from me here,” he said, while video conferencing with a hearing specialist. “She can control my hearing through the application and make adjustments just like I was in the room with her.”

Patients can also make adjustments themselves, including activating the new mask setting to help them better hear those with face coverings. They can also share information with select loved-ones through a companion app. If a patient falls while wearing their hearing device, those family members will get an alert. 

“They can actually see on a map where I was,” said Dr. Fabry. “So if I am incapable of responding, they can come to that location.”

He expects Telehealth will continue to gain popularity.

“I think that is going to continue, I hope, to become a bigger part in the way patients and providers will interact," he said.

Dr. Kowal agrees.

“I don’t think it's going to go back,” Dr. Kowal said. “I think people are going to use this in ways we haven’t thought of.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS wants to remind viewers that CPR is a critical, life-saving tool in cases of cardiac arrest.

Click here for information on CPR classes through the Center for Resuscitation Medicine at the University of Minnesota. Classes are also available through the American Heart Association.

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