About five years ago, specialists in Massachusetts General Hospital’s Corrigan Minehan Heart Center recognized that they needed a better way to connect with physicians whose patients were experiencing time-sensitive conditions, like cardiac shock or arrest, or needed evaluation for a heart or lung transplant.
“Hospitals outside of our network, particularly teams at smaller hospitals, were not aware of the advanced technologies we have here to salvage these very sick patients,” says Jerome Crowley, MD, MPH, of the Heart Center Intensive Care Unit and Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine. “Time is of the essence with these patients, and we needed a way to reach the care teams.” The solution, as it turned out, was literally in their back pockets.
In late 2019, just prior to the emergence of COVID-19, the Heart Center released the MGH Heart app, a digital app easily downloaded from any mobile platform, like the Apple App Store or Google Play. Developed in collaboration with Mass General’s Healthcare Transformation Lab, the app allows callers to immediately connect to Heart Center intensivists without the need for paging, phone transfers or callbacks, saving precious time.
Their first mission included providing practical guidelines for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, therapy. ECMO is an intensive treatment for people with life- threatening heart and lung failure, in which a machine steps in to temporarily replace the function of a person’s compromised organs.
Tapping the “Call ECMO Hotline” button connects the user to a Mass General intensivist on call, who provides clinical advice and consult regarding a patient’s suitability for transfer to Mass General.
“With the app, we can immediately offer help via a direct connection, 24/7, avoiding delays and paperwork when a clinician is trying to reach another clinician for an urgent need,” Dr. Crowley says.
When a Heart App user calls about a patient diagnosed with aortic dissection, the intensivist immediately accepts the patient for transfer to Mass General. “They know surgical suite availability, can help guide and manage people without delay, and can connect with the appropriate surgeon as needed,” says Arminder Jassar, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Mass General who consulted with the app developers on the aortic dissection module.
“These people are so urgently sick that this process removes all the traditional barriers,” adds Dr. Crowley. Patients are triaged by the intensivist to the surgeon and sent directly to a cardiac surgery suite, instead of first being admitted to the emergency room. This is a significant benefit, as the emergency department at Mass General often needs to divert incoming patients to other hospitals.
“This way, we expedite the care for these patients, who are transferred directly to the operating room, and unburden the emergency department, which helps them take care of more patients,” says Dr. Jassar. “In this connected era, the MGH Heart App allows physicians and their patients in New England to connect with us and manage these serious conditions.”
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