In 1982, Mayo Clinic was testing pacemakers by telephone. Registered nurse Sharon Neubauer never knew what country might be on the end of the line when she picked up the phone.
“This call’s from Saint Marys Hospital,” she commented, “but it could have been Uruguay or Turkey. Our patients are everywhere.”
Ms. Neubauer was one of four registered nurses who worked with the Pacemaker Clinic on East 16 and at Saint Marys Hospital. She and her colleagues were able to check the performance of cardiac pacemakers from all over the world—by telephone.
Special transmitters issued to patients at the time of their pacemaker implant “pick up” the patient’s pulse beat and code it into a series of blips and bleeps that “sound like crickets chirping,” according to Ms. Neubauer. The same in any language, these blips and bleeps automatically fed through the telephone receiver into a special electrocardiograph machine on the Mayo end of the telephone connection.
The Pacemaker Clinic received 15 to 20 routine calls from patients whose heart beats depend on electronic stimuli from implanted pacemakers. The blips and bleeps indicate the rate and regularity of the heartbeat to be sure the artificially stimulated rhythm matches the originally “prescribed” for the patient.
In 1982, with 950 pacemaker patients calling in every three months, the Pacemaker Clinic’s telephone kept busy. To manage the work load and to be sure the checks are made regularly, patients were assigned specific mornings on which to call. Their pacemaker files were on hand as though they were coming to Mayo Clinic in person. With 300 to 400 procedures per year, Mayo was one of the largest pacemaker implant centers in the country during that time.