Aim: To assess feasibility and reliability of telecardiology technologies applied to a region-wide public emergency health-care service.
Methods: About 27,841 patients from all over Apulia (19.362 km(2), 4 million inhabitants) were referred from October 2004 until April 2006 to public emergency health-care number "118" and underwent ECG evaluation according to a previously fixed inclusion protocol. Data recorded were transmitted with mobile telephone support to a telecardiology "hub" active 24-h a day. Hospitalization or further examinations were arranged by emergency physicians on the basis of ECG diagnosis and consultation.
Results: Thirty-nine percent of patients complained of chest pain (CP) or epigastric pain, 26% loss of consciousness, 10% breathlessness, and 7% palpitations. Atrial fibrillation (AF) was diagnosed in 11.68% of patients and ST-elevation acute myocardial infarction (STEMI) in 1.91%. Among patients with CP, ECG showed STEMI in only 3.84% of cases, theoretically eligible for fibrinolysis or primary PCI; patients with STEMI complained of CP in 78.94% of cases. Of the patients, 65.28% with STEMI were from small towns without coronary care units, thus benefiting from an immediate pre-hospital diagnosis. Among patients with palpitations, only 10.27% of subjects showed ECG signs of supra-ventricular tachycardia and 25.18% of AF; other subjects avoided further improper hospitalization or emergency department monitoring.
Conclusions: This first region-wide leading experience shows the feasibility and reliability of telecardiology applied to a public emergency health-care service. Telemedicine protocols would probably be useful in lowering the number of improper hospitalizations and shortening delay in the diagnosis process of some heart diseases.