At the turn of the 20th century, doctors lacked the basic tools to see inside the human body. Today, neurosurgeons can use an MRI to glimpse inside the brain without ever making an incision. In the 1960s, cardiologists relied on pacemakers as big as car batteries, attached to cords plugged into the wall to help control a patient’s abnormal heart rhythm. Today, a wireless, battery-powered pacemaker the size of a large vitamin can be implanted directly inside a patient's heart. For decades, we have overcome obstacles to ensure patients get the care they need. Now, the coronavirus has created an entirely new set of challenges. We have a choice: Run from the challenge or be part of the solution.
How a cardiologist’s slip changed medicine
In 1958, an American cardiologist was conducting an imaging test when he accidentally injected dye into the patient’s coronary arteries. Until then, doctors believed such a move would result in certain death. It didn’t. In fact, the slip created a way to X-ray the inside of blood vessels and changed the way doctors diagnosed heart problems.
Healthcare has always been a hands-on profession. Not long after we’re born, a doctor presses a stethoscope against our chest to listen to our heart. As children, we grudgingly open our mouths and say “Aah” so a nurse can look at our tonsils. But remote technology is changing the way healthcare is delivered. Doctors carry iPads™ instead of satchels. Patients with diabetes can now receive personalized alerts about their glucose levels on their smart phones connected to one of our apps and stand-alone continuous glucose monitoring systems. Nothing can replace in-person care, but technology can help us navigate a world where social distancing keeps us apart.
Protecting the protectors
The coronavirus spares no one, not even our bravest men and women — military veterans. When COVID-19 hit the United States, Medtronic quickly developed new remote monitoring solutions — based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 — for patients served by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Home Telehealth program. Once the solution was in place at the VA, Medtronic rolled out a similar offering for other hospital systems and even its own employees.
If I would have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.- Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company.
Curiosity is the engine that fires our imaginations and drives discoveries. Many make our lives easier, and often better. Consider how wireless technology has transformed the way we communicate, access information, and even how medical devices relay critical data between patients and doctors. Medtronic makes Bluetooth™-enabled cardiac devices that can be programmed from a distance by clinicians. That kind of capability reduces exposure to the virus for both patient and providers. So does the ability to remotely operate some of our lifesaving medical devices. In a matter of weeks, we developed, piloted, and launched a software upgrade for our most advanced ventilator to enable onsite remote monitoring and management capabilities.
Big challenges in the Big Apple
New York City hospitals braced for a bed shortage as COVID-19 cases surged. So, the state and federal government converted the cavernous Jacob K. Javits Convention Center into a field hospital. But that was only part of the challenge. Staff needed to remotely track vital signs for hundreds of patients. A Medtronic team quickly deployed several technologies to remotely monitor the oxygen saturation in patients’ blood to enable detection of respiratory deterioration. The setup would normally take weeks. They did it in two days.
This global pandemic is reshaping our world, emphasizing the need for solutions that bridge the divide between healthcare professionals and the technology they rely on to treat patients. Our remote monitoring solutions can help clinicians stay safe while focusing on what matters most – delivering quality patient care.- John Liddicoat, M.D., executive vice president and president, Medtronic Americas Region
Patient care is changing out of necessity. But long before coronavirus, we were applying the power of technology to transform healthcare delivery. Our Mission compels us to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life. We help because help is needed. We help because we can deliver solutions that work. When patients want faster recovery times, Medtronic offers minimally invasive therapies that can help patients return home sooner1-3. When cardiac patients want to play a proactive role in managing their health, we can offer mobile apps to help. We don’t need a crisis to drive innovation. Meaningful innovation is what we do.
As countries around the world began restricting travel to try to slow the spread of the virus, our clinical support teams were finding new ways to train medical professionals how to safely use our devices and therapies, many of which were critically needed to treat COVID-19 patients. So, we shifted training online, using web-based tools and extended reality platforms. When a doctor in Qatar reached out to Medtronic for help operating one of our implantable pain medication pumps, one of our specialists more than 500 miles away in Saudi Arabia walked him through the steps via a virtual chat. While COVID-19 might have forced our hand this time, remote technology is helping deliver support and training, paving the way for greater access to medical technology in developing countries.
Someone to watch over you
Remote patient monitoring is hardly new. In fact, Medtronic introduced the world’s first remote cardiac monitoring system in 2002, and today it is used by two million patients worldwide. The technology is playing an important role during the pandemic by keeping those patients out of hospitals and clinics. Malaysia is the latest country to adopt a monitoring system consisting of a tablet, an app, and telemetry wand that allows clinicians to remotely check in on patients with our heart devices.
I think we're going to the moon because it's in the nature of the human being to face challenges.- Neil Armstrong, astronaut
Some day we will vanquish COVID-19. It may be next year. It may be years from now. When that happens, the healthcare landscape will look very different than it does today. We will still need the remote tools we’ve relied on to help us manage the pandemic and will likely need new ones. We’ll keep asking the hard questions and allowing our curiosity to propel us toward new discoveries. We’ll keep finding new ways to make people’s lives better. We’ll always be planning for the next big discovery. We stand ready to take on the next challenge.
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