Lake View Hospital in Two Harbors began implementing a new system this week which could improve the outcomes for heart attack patients.

The system is called LIFENET, and what it does is allows the hospital to communicate with an ambulance that is out in the field with a patient. So if someone is having a STEMI (segment elevation myocardial infarction) heart attack, after they are picked up by the ambulance and hooked up to their machines, the ambulance can start transmitting to Lake View Hospital.

"Now with this system they have the capability to send the EKG (electrocardiogram) to the hospital so we have an understanding of what's exactly going on with that patient," said Mike Borud, IT project manager at Lake View. "We actually get an EKG, a med list and vital signs sent to us before they get (to the hospital). So if they are 45 minutes away, we now have 45 minutes to know exactly what's going on with that patient by the time they even get to us."

The information is sent wirelessly through Physio-Control's LIFENET system. Once the information begins sending from the ambulance, the hospital will get an alert as well as a print off of the information and an electronic version. Physio-Control is an emergency medical solutions company that pioneered portable defibrillators.

"It runs off of the cell towers," said Cory Larson, Lake County Ambulance operations education coordinator. "So as long as we have service we can transmit."

Lake County Ambulance, located in Two Harbors, has had the LIFENET system capability for quite some time, and has only been able to communicate with the Duluth hospitals until now. When Lake View Administrator Greg Ruberg started a year and a half ago, he found it really odd that the hospital didn't have the same LIFENET capabilities that the Duluth hospitals did, so he and his staff got to work.

"It felt like we could step up and offer this service and partner with the ambulance more effectively," Ruberg said. "So we started asking questions and we had some discussion about what that would look like."

Lake View applied for the American Heart Association Project Lifeline grant to get LIFENET working there, and they received the grant.

"This is really the missing piece," Ruberg said. "There are so many other areas that we partner very well with on trauma patients as a Level 4 trauma center, but we didn't have this capability for heart attack patients, which we certainly wanted."

How does it help the patient?

Before the system was implemented, the hospital had a 30 minute window to get the patient in and out of the emergency room, if it was a STEMI, before they had to be on their way to the cath lab in Duluth, said Kelli Sweatt, an IT registered nurse at Lake View. Now with this system, the doctors in the ER will be able to determine if it's a STEMI heart attack and reroute the ambulance straight to the cath lab in Duluth and save those 30 minutes, she said.

"With the provider being able to consult and being able to look at the EKG while they are still in the field, will lessen the time even further," Sweatt said. "And even if it's not a STEMI, it can provide valuable information for other arrhythmias or things that we could be preparing for when the rig is still out."

The benefit of having a physician actually see what's happening to the patient while they are still out in the field is invaluable.

"We can converse with the physician (at the hospital) and we can say 'here's what we have' while we are both looking at the same document," said Gavin Reynolds, a paramedic with Lake County Ambulance. "We can collaborate together and make a decision and bypass Lake View and go straight to the cath lab at St. Luke's, or if it's not life threatening, to stop here, stabilize and then if a higher level of care or a specialty care is needed we can go to St. Luke's after stabilization."

Larson said it also allows them to get a second opinion, which is really nice.

"There's been some occasions where we'll have somebody on the cardiac monitor and it will be an unusual rhythm, something I haven't seen in awhile, so I will have the ability to call in and ask the doctor if he's seeing the same thing and get his opinion."

According to Borud, the biggest goal of the whole system is the communication process of it. The hospital now gets the same data as the ambulance instantaneously and the ER doctors and staff can see the same exact thing, he said. Getting that immediate response instead of waiting to be at a hospital is one of the biggest benefits, as well as streamlining the patient straight into the cath lab.

"If there is a STEMI or heart attack and we have to go to St. Luke's or St. Mary's, we don't even have to go to their ER," Larson said. "We can go straight into the cath lab and that's where they have the life saving procedure and that saves time, and time is life."

Another area the LIFENET system can help patients, is when there is a traumatic incident with a really critically injured patient.

"We can transmit, not just EKG information, but also the vital signs so the staff (at Lake View) can be prepared and kind of foresee things that might be issues trending downward and such," Larson said.

And that all comes down to communication.

"I think that it's so important when an ambulance is out there that we're communicating with each other and preparing," Ruberg said. "The better prepared, the better treatment the patient is going to receive."