Let's face it: doctors can't monitor each and every one of their patients 24/7 from the bedside.

But advances in technology are making it possible for physicians to monitor their patients remotely at anytime, from anywhere, as long as Internet access is available.

St. Jude Medical (St. Paul, Minnesota) this week reported winning FDA approval of its Merlin.net Patient Care Network (PCN), an Internet-based central repository for patient device data intended to enable physicians and clinicians to connect directly to their patients' stored device data remotely through a secure web site.

"It's highly convenient in that time and location are irrelevant and physicians can access the information they need to make important decisions from any place at any time," Kathleen Janasz, a spokesperson for St. Jude Medical, told Medical Device Daily.

Merlin.net PCN is designed to collect data from implant procedures, remote transmissions and in-clinic follow-up sessions. With immediate access to patient information through the Merlin.net PCN web site, physicians can monitor and assess patient device data and determine the level of care needed remotely, according to St. Jude. Patients can send data directly to physicians using Merlin.net PCN from their own home via the Housecall Plus portable transmitter. Merlin.net PCN supports all currently marketed Atlas and Epic family implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) and cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT-D) device families in the U.S., the company noted.

The Merlin.net PCN is also a centralized storage system that allows data to be sent directly to a clinic's or hospital's electronic health records (EHR) system, St. Jude said. The ability to transfer device data from Merlin.net PCN to an EHR system, where a patient's comprehensive medical history is stored, may enhance patient safety by providing physicians with all pertinent medical information in one location to aid their decision making, the company added.

"For physicians it saves time and effort and from a patient's perspective I think there's some assurance there, you know that they've got all the information they need in one place," Janasz said.

Janasz also emphasized that the Merlin.net system adheres to the patient privacy standards and requirements for the electronic transmission of health information, as set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. At the clinic, only assigned users have access to password-protected patient data, which is encrypted during transmission and backing-up of data.

"The Merlin.net PCN makes it easy and convenient for physicians to review data from any place at anytime. We foresee fewer delays in physician response to information because they will have such easy access to it," Janasz said.

St. Jude Medical says it is the first cardiac rhythm management company to complete a testing process established by the IHE (Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise), an initiative promoting the adoption of standards that enable healthcare information to be shared seamlessly across clinical settings.

Therefore, Janasz said, when physicians get information about patients who have St. Jude Medical devices, they only need to review one source vs. logging onto two systems, one for general records and another for device data.

"With Merlin.net PCN, St. Jude Medical offers a comprehensive patient care network that can be made available to any of our U.S.-based Atlas and Epic family ICD and CRT-D patients and their physicians," said Michael Coyle, president of St. Jude Medical's Cardiac Rhythm Management Division. "Our adherence to industry connectivity standards for remote monitoring and data sharing provides an efficient environment that will advance the management of patient care both in and out of the hospital setting."

IHE is a global initiative, now in its ninth year, which creates the framework for exchanging health information seamlessly - from application to application, system to system, and setting to setting - across healthcare enterprises. IHE is intended to bring together clinicians and other healthcare information technology stakeholders to implement standards for communicating patient information efficiently.

While the Merlin.net PCN is, according to St. Jude, the "first and only cardiac rhythm management remote monitoring system to comply with industry standards for patient electronic health records," companies have been recognizing the importance of remote patient monitoring for several years.

In November Boston Scientific (Natick, Massachusetts) reported FDA approval of the Latitude patient management software, what it called the first remote monitoring system to provide clinicians with direct device data integration capability into the Centricity Electronic Medical Record from GE Healthcare (Waukesha, Wisconsin) for cardiac device patients (Medical Device Daily, Nov. 15, 2006).

Medtronic (Minneapolis) also claims that its CareLink Network was the first Internet-based system to help physicians and patients better manage chronic cardiovascular disease treated by implantable device therapy. CareLink was first cleared by the FDA in January 2002 (MDD, Dec. 23, 2003).