- Associated Press - Sunday, December 11, 2016

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Local patients with specialized medical devices with monitoring systems hooked up through their home phones are starting to be prepared for a time when traditional landline phone systems will be phased out.

Officials at the WVU Medicine Camden Clark Medical Center’s Cardiac Device Clinic are being proactive in informing patients about what they see as the eventual change over from traditional landline systems to digital, cellular and other systems.

Lowell Chevalier of Reedsville, Ohio, said he has a defibrillator implanted.

“At home, I have a device there by my bed that they monitor me with,” he said.

He was told by hospital officials that since traditional landline phone service is expected to be done away with in the coming years, the new systems will rely on cell phone technology.

“They asked if I get cell phone service,” Chevalier said. “I said I do not in our area.”

Officials have been trying to get a cell phone tower installed in the Belleville-Reedville area, but it has not been done yet, he said.

“I was concerned about not being able to be monitored without the cell service,” Chevalier said.

He wants to see if something could be done for people, without cell service, to continue with their monitoring.

“Without monitoring, I will probably end up dead,” Chevalier said. “That is not very good.

“I’d hate to lose that service. It is very important.”

Allison Maher, Director of Cardiac Services at Camden Clark Medical Center, said they have around 1,500 patients with devices that they monitor, either pacemakers or defibrillators or some other kinds of devices.

“A lot of people get these cardiac implantable devices,” she said. “The reason people have different devices is that their hearts are too slow or they have a fast dangerous heartbeat and they need to treat it with a therapy that comes out of these devices.”

Once someone gets one, they need to have it checked because there is a battery inside and people need to have them checked, Maher said. The normal schedule to check a person’s device is four times a year, once in person in the clinic and the other times it can be done remotely.

Different companies manufacturing these devices. Companies who Camden Clark uses devices from include Medtronic, St. Jude Medical, Boston-Scientific and Biotronik.

“All of the device companies have the ability to monitor patients remotely,” Maher said. “What happens is we get the patient a home monitor and teach the patient how to use it.”

Over the last year, Maher said they have been informed traditional landlines across the country are eventually going away through a number of initiatives in the private sector as well as support of the Federal Communication Commission.

“In anticipation of this coming in the next couple of years, we have partnered with all of the device companies to go ahead and start educating our patients that at whatever point their landline doesn’t work, there are options for them to get their devices checked remotely,” she said. “It has nothing to do with the Camden Clark Medical Center, it has everything to do with the fact that across the country landlines will eventually be going away.

“It has everything to do with us trying to take really good care of our patients and getting the jump on getting them prepared to get remote transmissions from home before all of the sudden they can’t.”

The FCC said the changes are being driven by companies and newer technologies.

“The networks are indeed in transition from copper to fiber, and in some places from wireline to wireless,” said Mark Wigfield, Deputy Director of the FCC Media Relations Department. “This is a company-by-company, region-by-region phenomenon, driven by the private sector.

“The FCC supports this transition since in most cases, it will lead to better service, but has a process in place to look at any network changes that could disrupt existing services. So network transitions that result in the termination of certain services would be subject to public comment and review.”

New guidelines adopted by the FCC this year will give carriers clarity they need to transition quickly to innovative services and at the same time ensure continued protections for consumers, competition, public safety and universal service, according to a press release issued from the FCC in July.

Under the new rules, a company’s application to discontinue service in a technology transition can be automatically granted in 30 days if the applicant meets a three-pronged test. This test recognizes that while many consumers have welcomed new services, legacy technologies remain relevant for others.

The test covers network performance, reliability and coverage is substantially unchanged for customers; access to 911, cybersecurity and access for people with disabilities meets current rules and standards; and compatibility with a defined list of legacy services still popular with consumers and small businesses, including home security systems, medical monitoring devices, credit card readers and fax machines, subject to sunset in 2025, is assured.

Requests for discontinuance can also be reviewed through the FCC’s normal adjudicatory channels the press release said.

Medtronic, which makes up the majority of devices used by Camden Clark, have been proactive in offering adapters for the monitoring devices that utilize cell signals.

The population they are dealing with are people in their 60s, 70s and 80s, people who have traditionally been leery of new technologies.

“We have been trying to educate them for a year,” Maher said. “The change has not been made yet.

“We are just giving them the information.”

Some people are resistant to the changes. The clinic has given out information and tried to educate patients on what will be happening.

“Some leave and are very confused,” Maher said.

There are different options for the patients when the landlines are disconnected in order for them to transmit their information to the clinic.

If they choose to do nothing or cannot do anything, they can come into the clinic and have them checked physically, just more frequently.

Some adapters, like the Wire X device, can have the monitor plugged in.

“It senses a cell signal and it transmits over the cell line,” Maher said. “There does have to be a cell tower.”

For patients who live in remote areas and don’t have a cell tower, they have the option to use internet and Wi-Fi access, Maher said adding people just need a cell tower in their area for the adapters to work, not an actual cell phone.

“We are trying to get the jump on getting patients the information so they can make choices when the landline discontinuation comes,” she said.

The staff at the clinic reiterated no change has to be made today.

“We are trying to educate everyone in advance,” Maher said. “It is us getting the jump on what we think will happen and getting the information to the people.

“The FCC requirements and guideline changes are going to affect a lot of people, some negatively and some won’t mind the changes.”

They want their patients to understand what is happening and that they have options. They want people to ask questions and make sure they will still be served.

“When we sense that someone doesn’t understand something, we try to spend more time with them,” Maher said. “We have a pretty good relationship with all of our patients.

“All they have to do is come back and talk with us. We will meet their needs, whatever they are. They can be assured the Camden Clark Medical Center is there for them everyday.”


Information from: News and Sentinel (Parkersburg, W.Va.), https://www.newsandsentinel.com

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