FDA approves first pocket-sized EKG machine for easier, faster check of heart

Tuesday, January 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government approved the first pocket-sized EKG machine Tuesday, so small that it promises easier, faster heart measurements in ambulances, the emergency room _ even a possible heart attack victim's bedroom.

It's also the first hand-held computer-based medical device, part of a growing trend to miniaturize some of medicine's most important equipment.

Electrocardiograms, also called EKGs or ECGs, are recordings of the heart's electrical signals, used to diagnose heart attacks, irregular heartbeats and other cardiac problems.

The new PocketView ECG works just as well as full-size electrocardiograph machines, the Food and Drug Administration determined _ but is the size of a handheld computer.

In fact, it's actually made from a Compaq hand-held personal digital assistant. Manufacturer MicroMedical Industries embedded that off-the-shelf PDA with miniaturized versions of the software and hardware that run full-size EKG machines.

Twelve leads, the electrodes that stick to the chest and record electric currents during each heartbeat, plug into a wire that in turn plugs into the top of the device.

The result is a machine that health workers can use to record EKGs anywhere the patient happens to be _ at home, in an ambulance _ without having to lug around heavy equipment, said FDA's Donna-Bea Tillman.

A doctor could view the readings right on the PDA screen. Or, if ambulance workers were recording the measurements, the PocketView ECG can transmit the results over wireless phones to a computer for a doctor to view. Or plug in a printer and the PocketView will spit out the electrocardiogram's traditional spike-covered paper printout.

Smaller means more portable, and ``when it comes to heart patients, the ability to transmit an electrocardiogram quickly can be valuable,'' said Dr. Sidney Smith of the American Heart Association.

Emergency medical technicians already lug around briefcase-size EKG equipment, but stopping to set that up _ not to mention puffing up flights of stairs with it _ takes time that a smaller size unit should cut, he said.

Depending how easy the PocketView is to use, Smith suggests police officers or other first responders might one day be able to use them, just as they now frequently carry portable defibrillators to try to jump-start stopped hearts.

Australia-based MicroMedical couldn't be reached immediately to say how much the PocketView ECG will cost, although the company's Web site promised ``a highly competitive price.'' U.S. heart experts say price will be one key in whether health workers try the miniature gadget or stick with their bigger machines.

But miniaturizing equipment ``so you don't have to bring the patient to the machine'' is a growing industry trend, said Dr. Susan Alpert, former FDA medical device chief now with equipment maker C.R. Bard. ``If you really want to take care of people in an emergency, you want to bring everything they could possibly need to them.''