Keeping careful watch over cardiac patients at Blue Mountain Health System's Gnaden Huetten campus has always been close to the hearts of the staff there. Now, a new, wireless state-of-the-art monitoring system is helping to keep that watch even more keen, close and accurate than ever.

The $112,877 GE Medical Systems Information Technologies ApexPro System, equipment that monitors heart rhythms, rates and blood oxygen levels, went into operation Wednesday in the hospital's medical/surgical unit. The system works by transmitting a continuous flow of information from patients via a wireless network to large-screen monitors. Each nurse chooses one of 30 colors for his or her patients, so she can check their status at a glance.

Each patient has a personal transmitter, about the size of an iPhone, which is kept in the pocket of the hospital gown. Leads from electrodes placed on the patient feed into the transmitter, which sends the information to the monitors. Each transmitter also has a button the patient can press to alert staff to any unusual symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath or fluttering sensation.

Staff can immediately see what's happening with the patient's heart as the button is pressed.

The new system even monitors the batteries in the transmitters, alerting staff at the beginning of each shift if batteries are losing power.

Staff last week praised the new system. They had researched wireless monitoring, called telemetry, for several years, traveling to other hospitals to talk with staff about what equipment they liked, or didn't like.

"The staff were very much involved in choosing the system," said Toni Gibson, associate vice-president of nursing for Blue Mountain Health System.

The ApexPro System won, hands down, said Susan Jansen, RN, BSN, director of Medical/Surgical and ICO Telemetry at Gnaden Huetten.

The new system, which arrived in December, differs from the previous equipment in many ways. The older system could monitor eight patients; the new system "watches" 12. The system can be upgraded to add more patients if needed.

The old equipment alerted nurses to every change in heart rhythm without differentiating whether the change was due to patient movement or an actual heart issues. The new system senses patterns and is able to describe any changes much more accurately.

"Our older system would pick all those things up as actual potential arrhythmias," Jansen said.

The new system also is tailored to each patient's unique heart rhythms and blood oxygen levels. It's set up to recognize them, thus avoiding false alarms. It also can monitor patients over a wider area.

Gibson said the ApexPro System provides "full disclosure" of heart changes. Patients don't always immediately tell nurses of changes or events, but the system keeps a complete, detailed record of the patient's cardiac rates and rhythms for rolling 24-hour periods. The old system kept a record, but only of the events, Gibson said.

The information also can be printed by laser printer, an improvement over the former thermal printing, which fades over time.

The system eventually will be connected to the intensive care unit.

It took only a day to train 25 staff people, Jansen said. The system training also did double duty, providing nurses with a "refresher course" in telemetry, Jansen said.

Gnaden Huetten received the new telemetry equipment because it's system was much older than the one in use at the Palmerton campus.

"Every year we look at upgrades for the hospital; we're very much committed to improving quality and making sure we have the latest and the greatest," Gibson said. "Our telemetry monitor was sufficient, but this is very high-tech. We were able to get everything that we wanted and then some. It's going to be beneficial to patients, first of all. The staff love it it's going to make life easier for them. And we've had a lot of very positive comments from the physicians. They are very excited."