For heart attack victims, the first few minutes are critical. That's why a dozen pioneering hospitals are pushing cardiac care beyond emergency rooms and into company medical departments. A telephone-based system dubbed MDphone currently links these hospitals to some 50 sites at 25 companies, where stricken employees can get prompt treatment even before the paramedics arrive.
Inside MDphone's briefcase-size box are an electrocardiogram system, defibrillator, phone, and automatic dialer. Stick EKG pads on a person's chest, plug in the $8,500 MDphone, and the heart's electrical signals get relayed to the hospital. Should the patient's heart start to fail, a doctor can remotely trigger a defibrillating jolt to restore proper rhythm. Developed by MEDphone Corp. in Paramus, N. J., the first system went to Jewish Hospital in St. Louis nearly three years ago. The idea took off slowly--until recently. This year, Mount Sinai and Beekman Downtown hospitals, both in New York, have installed MDphones.