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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Telemetry Unit

Telemetry Unit

Alternate Names : Cardiac Telemetry Unit, Step Down Unit, IMCU, Intermediate Care Unit

The telemetry unit is an area of a hospital where special machines are used to help staff closely monitor patients.

What is the information for this topic?

Telemetry is a way to send data electronically from one point to another. In the telemetry unit, machines record electronic data related to each patient. The machines then send this data to a central area where it can be displayed on TV screens for staff to read. This allows every patient in the unit to be watched closely for signs of trouble.

The doctor who admits a person to the hospital decides what level of care he or she needs. Doctors send people to the telemetry unit when they are concerned about key body functions, such as the heart rate. People receive a lower, or less intense, level of care than they would get in the ICU. However, they receive a higher level of care than they would get if sent to a regular inpatient unit.

Machines in a telemetry unit measure specific body functions. The most common measurements are heart rate and electrocardiogram, or ECG. The ECG records the electrical activity of the heart. Blood pressure, rate of breathing, temperature, and level of oxygen in the blood can also be measured if needed.

Various machines are available to make these measurements. After the machines record and send the data, trained staff in the central monitoring area can watch for any problems. Certain conditions can be detected even before physical symptoms occur. In some cases, lifesaving treatment can be given based on this data. For example, someone whose heart is beating irregularly or who is at risk for an irregular heartbeat can be monitored in this unit. The staff can then keep a close watch on any changes in his or her heartbeat. If necessary, treatment can be given swiftly.

The telemetry unit is similar to regular inpatient unit in many ways. The main difference is an increased level of monitoring. This can be annoying for the person being monitored. Stickers are usually placed on the chest and electrodes are attached to the stickers. This allows the heart rate and electrical tracing of the heart to be recorded. Usually, a small box connected to the electrodes sends the data to the central area. Generally, the box fits into a pocket in the person's gown.

A blood pressure cuff may be placed around the arm. The cuff may inflate by itself at intervals, which may be uncomfortable. A special clip may also be placed over the finger to measure oxygen in the blood. People receiving this level of care also often have an IV line placed into one of their veins, usually in the arm.

Because of the all the wires and tubes attached to the body, a simple task such as going to the bathroom may be a chore. The machines may also beep loudly and make other noises. While this type of monitoring may sometimes be annoying, it can be lifesaving. Early warnings from the machines may allow for faster and better treatment in some cases.

A person who has been critically ill in the ICU will usually go to the telemetry unit once his or her condition is stable. After treatment, people may be sent home directly from the telemetry unit. In other cases, a person is first moved to a regular bed as he or she gets better, then sent home.

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
Date Reviewed: 05/07/01

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