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Clinicians have been able to remotely monitor pacemakers for years thanks to a combination of near-field and remote wireless technologies, but until now, patients haven’t been able to access the data from their own implanted devices. That’s about to change thanks to pacemaker developer Medtronic, which has officially launched MyCareLink Heart — a free iOS and Android app that lets patients use smartphones or tablets to pull data from pacemakers.

Giving patients access to pacemaker data through the devices they regularly use is a big leap forward for implantable and wearable medical technology. Before the release of MyCareLink Heart, pacemaker users would need to check in with their physicians to determine how much battery life their devices had left, as well as to check correlations between their physical activities and heart pacing. Additionally, many patients have been using landline telephone-sized bedside transmitters to intermittently synchronize data with Medtronic’s CareLink network.

And there are a lot of pacemaker users: The American Heart Association estimates that three million people have pacemakers worldwide, with an additional 600,000 people receiving implants each year. Apart from helping older users, implantable heart devices are increasingly being used to save the lives of young and middle-aged people with genetic heart conditions.

“For the first time, pacemakers have the ability to communicate securely and directly with technology that patients use every day like smartphones and tablets,” said Medtronic VP Aisha Barry. “This brings the benefits of remote monitoring seamlessly into patients’ lives, potentially leading to enhanced and more efficient patient engagement with their physicians.”

There are a couple of caveats, of course. First, MyCareLink Heart works only with Medtronic’s BlueSync-enabled pacemakers, billed as “the world’s first and only portfolio of pacemakers” capable of communicating directly with patients’ devices. Supported models include the Azure pacemaker and three quadripolar cardiac resynchronization therapy pacemakers called Percepta, Serena, and Solara. Each uses low-power Bluetooth LE to guarantee a minimal impact on the pacemaker’s battery life, which for heart implantables is generally in the 8- to 10-year range.

Second, MyCareLink Heart isn’t intended to replace the need to interact with clinicians. While it can securely store and share heart information, much of the app’s functionality is a replacement for the bedside transmitter and separate instruction manuals, with the added ability to help patients log their vitals and symptoms for personal review. The end goal is to improve the quality of patient and doctor interactions, though by freeing concerned patients from having to call for status updates, it may reduce the quantity of those interactions and improve peace of mind, as well.

MyCareLink Heart can be downloaded now from the iOS App Store. a universal app with iPhone- and iPad-optimized layouts. While the app also appears in the Google Play Store, Medtronic says that Android availability is currently limited to select European countries, with broad patient availability coming in the future. Patients with questions regarding the app can check out the MCLHeart.com website for additional details.

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