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Zio stick-on heart rhythm monitor 'the Netflix of heart care'

More than half the participants in a study who wore the wireless digital device avoided unnecessary follow-up care, while it may have saved the life of one participant.

Arrhythmia, a heart rhythm disorder that affects millions of Americans every year, can lead to a stroke or even sudden cardiac death, if left untreated. And monitoring a patient's heart rhythm for a few minutes or even hours over the course of a doctor's visit often doesn't provide enough data for accurate diagnosis.

The Zio Patch wirelessly monitors a patient's heart rhythm for up to 14 days. Scripps Health

Enter the Zio Patch, a new wireless (and fully recyclable) device that adheres to the chest for up to 14 days of continuous monitoring, and can simply be removed and mailed in for results. "It's like the Netflix of heart care," Steven Higgins, an electrophysiologist at Scripps Health, said in a statement.

Higgins was recently able to test the device on 285 patients who had gone to emergency rooms across the country with symptoms (fainting, palpitations, dizziness, etc.) that indicated possible arrhythmias.

As he reported at the Heart Rhythm Society's 33rd Annual Scientific Sessions in Boston over the weekend, not only did Higgins find that the Zio Patch saved 59 percent of participants from unnecessary follow-up care (read: they did not have arrhythmias), it may have even saved the life of one participant.

Kenneth Curzon, who had fainted while at work in March, wore the patch for two weeks, mailed it back to the developer, iRhythm Technologies, and learned that he was experiencing episodes of rapid heart beats, as well as heart rate pauses of more than three seconds. Within weeks, he received an implantable cardiac defibrillator to correct the arrhythmia and was able to go back to work less than a week later.

"The Zio Patch allowed me to diagnose and determine the most appropriate therapy for Ken," said Higgins, who thinks the device could save millions of dollars in unnecessary, as well as emergency, care. "Because they are infrequent, heart rhythm problems are often difficult to diagnose, even though they can be quite serious. The Zio Patch...will allow us to better diagnose challenging cases so we can provide our patients the best care."

Perhaps most surprising of all was that all 285 participants wore and returned the devices. Achieving a 100 percent compliance rate is "an amazing finding for an emergency department study," Higgins said.

Meanwhile, another Scripps researcher, Eric Topol, is at the helm of a study comparing the efficacy of the Zio Patch to the current gold standard for rhythm monitoring. Called the Holter monitor, the portable device, which has been around for decades, relies on a series of wired electrodes adhered to the chest.

Because the Holter renders many activities -- showering, sleeping, exercising -- cumbersome, it's typically worn for just a day or two. Topol is currently enrolling some 150 adult patients at Scripps to wear both monitors for up to two days and then continue with just the Zip for up to 14 days. He'll compare the resulting data and report back later this year.