Health and Science

Heart monitor links patients to doctors using the one thing they're unlikely to forget—their phones

Key Points
  • Abbott's Confirm Rx connects an insertable cardiac monitor to a smartphone app.
  • Abbott obtained Confirm Rx when it acquired St. Jude Medical last year.
  • Confirm Rx eliminates the need for handheld activators and bedside transmitters to send data collected to physicians.
Confirm Rx Insertable Cardiac Monitor
Source: Abbott

Mason Rinks would be studying for exams or working at his internship when he would feel lightheaded and dizzy and sometimes experience palpitations. Away at school and out of his insurance network, he wouldn't know what to do.

The 20-year-old student had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a type of arrhythmia, when he was 13. The symptoms had subsided over the years then returned in the fall with the stress of being a college student. Unsure whether to see a doctor when the symptoms reappeared, Rinks would call his mom, who was a state away.

He would usually visit an urgent care center, where they would prescribe beta blockers. The medicine would help for a bit until side effects would prompt him to stop. Rinks felt frustrated. His mom felt helpless.

"Not only are you in another state where they don't take your insurance because you're in a different state, but it's difficult because you have to find the right place to go out of network," Mary Ellen Rinks said. "There are a lot of issues, and first of all, you worry about his safety and making sure he's doing OK."

Rinks returned home to Michigan from Butler University in Indianapolis during his winter break. He saw a cardiologist, Dr. Abdul Alawwa, who recommended Rinks receive Abbott's Confirm Rx, an insertable cardiac monitor that connects to the myMerlin smartphone app.

Insertable cardiac monitors are USB-sized devices that are placed under the skin to record heart rhythms. The devices help diagnose the cause of fast or slow heartbeats, palpitations, fainting spells and unexplained stroke.

The monitors are typically synched to a handheld device for patients to record irregularities and a bedside transmitter that sends data to doctors overnight. With Confirm Rx, smartphones fill those roles and eliminate the need for additional devices.

Patients can record symptoms during the day and send them to their doctors using the app. They can also add details about what they were doing when those symptoms occurred.The app will send any data it records automatically on a schedule the physician sets.

Just like a traditional transmitter, though, people need to keep their phone within 5 feet of them to keep the connection. For Rinks, that's not a terribly difficult task, considering the college student is constantly near his phone.

"Being someone who's young and somewhat reliant on phones makes it super easy," he said. "If I'm going home, I don't have to worry about forgetting another device."

Abbott obtained Confirm Rx as part of its $25 billion acquisition of St. Jude Medical last year. When designing the device, the team knew it had to make the app simple enough that anyone, including elderly patients, could use it, said Avi Fischer, divisional vice president and medical director of Abbott's cardiac rhythm management business.

The first Confirm Rx was implanted in Germany last April. The device received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October, and the first implant was in November.

Since then, feedback has been "overwhelmingly positive," Fischer said. The device helped boost Abbott's electrophysiology sales by 16 percent last quarter.

"The types of patients have varied from younger to older, and (the devices) are being implanted for a variety of conditions," Fischer said. "Sometimes it's to diagnose or to rule something out."

Alawwa, Rink's cardiologist, has implanted about a dozen of the devices. One of his staff members checks data once a month. Alawwa follows the no-news-is-good-news policy, meaning he calls patients only when he sees something concerning.

Rinks prefers it that way.

It's been two months since he received the device. Frantic calls to his mom have ended because when he feels something abnormal, he knows he's connected to cardiologist even though he's 300 miles away.

"(My mom) has confidence and I have confidence knowing I can live the life I want to live without worrying," he said. "And I know someone has my back."