An independent life despite heart failure

Maintaining autonomy in old age, despite heart disease - explore how telemedicine can already contribute to this today.

Published on March 14, 2022

Shortness of breath, swelling in the legs, and fatigue – these are all symptoms that frequently accompany chronic heart failure. One in 20 people in Germany lives with the condition. In the future, remote monitoring of patient vital signs could help detect early indications of deteriorating cardiac function and allow patients to receive medical care in the comfort of their own homes.

Ingo von Garnier is one of Germany’s almost four million patients living with congestive heart failure [1]. This past year, he underwent a surgical procedure on his heart that resulted in lengthy stays at a hospital and rehabilitation facility. It was initially uncertain whether he would be able to return to an independent life at home. “It was a difficult time,” recalls his wife, Helga.

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart is no longer capable of pumping sufficient blood throughout the body. The resulting oxygen deficiency causes an array of problems, but the condition can become especially critical if heart failure suddenly worsens. Experts refer to this rapid deterioration as decompensation, which can lead to acute heart failure. The condition cannot be cured, but given the right kinds of treatment, and depending on a patient’s general health and lifestyle, many are still able to lead a largely normal life. The key is to monitor the patient’s medical status very closely: The earlier any worsening of their condition is treated, the better the prognosis. Yet getting to the doctor can present a major obstacle – and not only due to the pandemic – particularly for older patients or those with limited mobility.

In medicine, decompensation is the term used to describe a failure of the regulatory and repair mechanisms that the body employs during the course of an illness to compensate for functional defects.

As a participant in the HerzConnect program, Ingo von Garnier was largely spared from having to make those trips. This was made possible by mobile telemedical devices and regular calls with the support team at the Heart and Diabetes Center North Rhine-Westphalia (HDZ NRW), Bad Oeynhausen, which also communicates with the physicians responsible for patient care.

The telemedicine program HerzConnect® grew out of a technology partnership between Siemens Healthineers und the Heart and Diabetes Center North Rhine-Westphalia (HDZ NRW), Bad Oeynhausen. It is based on the teamplay myCare Companion technology developed by Siemens Healthineers and AIT. teamplay myCare Companion allows medical care providers and patients to exchange important health information using an online platform and a smartphone app.
Ingo von Garnier measures his vital signs and enters the data into the smartphone app as part of his daily routine. At the beginning of the program, he and his wife received comprehensive training on how to use the smartphone, blood pressure monitor, bodyweight scale, and ECG machine.
Ingo von Garner also receives medical advice from specialists at the Clinic for Cardiology at the HDZ NRW. Together with the IFAT team, they use the data he records to select the right treatments and determine early on whether he needs to check into a clinic for further diagnostics or treatment. The patient’s own physician remains the main point of contact and receives continuous updates from the IFAT team.

Cardiologist Denise Guckel, MD, supervised Ingo von Garnier’s telemonitoring right from the start. “Since he entered the program, Mr. von Garnier has made excellent progress,” she reports. She emphasizes that his quality of life has noticeably improved. That is because aside from prioritizing patients’ physical well-being, HerzConnect also focuses on their lifestyle in general.

This regular phone consultation frequently fosters the growth of a special, trusting relationship between medical staff and patients that both parties appreciate. According to Helga von Garnier, it not only motivates them to adhere to the treatment plan and take an active role in managing her husband’s condition, but it also gives them a sense of security. She says, “We are overjoyed. It is a major relief for me to know that my husband is getting such good care and that he is so well informed.”