Yale's "Operation Beating Heart" Uses Telemedicine to Screen for Causes of Sudden Death in Athletes

Yale surgeon James “Butch” Rosser, M.D., has devised a portable, cost-effective testing program called “Operation Beating Heart” to detect potential causes of sudden death in young, competitive athletes.

The program uses a combination of telemedicine-remote care of patients using modern communications-and certified athletic trainers to screen for causes of sudden death in athletes. A common cause is a rare, hard-to-detect heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Another cause is asthma, which often does not show up except under stressed conditions and has a high death rate if not quickly and properly treated. Rosser said most of these conditions are unknown to the athletes, parents and family physicians.

“Operation Beating Heart uses the concept of empowering non-traditional primary care providers (certified athletic trainers) to facilitate advanced medical examinations, space-age miniaturized evaluation tools, and quality control oversight and direction from experts at a remote location using telemedicine,” said Rosser, associate professor of surgery and director of endo-laparoscopic surgery at Yale School of Medicine. “This offers the possibility of cost-effective mass pre-participation screening of all athletes.”

The Operation Beating Heart exam includes a miniature, five-pound ultrasound device used to scan the heart for defects, a computerized pulmonary function exam and an electrocardiogram (EKG). Rosser said current pre-participation screenings do not routinely perform these tests, which have historically been performed in a clinic or hospital. He said that other attempts have been made to achieve a goal standard medical evaluation, but have not used this unique approach to accomplish better protection for the millions of athletes that participate in competitive sports.

“Even though medical experts agree that the current exams do not pick up on the presence of ‘silent killer’ conditions, they have been stymied to come up with a program that cost-effectively addresses this lethal issue,” said Rosser. “Operation Beating Heart brings the cutting edge of health care to athletes today. We use telemedicine to bring the specialists directly to athletes.”

“These technologies could revolutionize the way health care providers detect abnormalities in an athlete,” Rosser added. “Traditionally, more advanced testing is only done if an athlete develops a problem. Unfortunately, as we have seen recently, this may be too late to save a life. The medical establishment must change from a defensive to an offensive health care strategy that picks up problems before they become lethal.”

The Operation Beating Heart program was successfully launched at Savannah State University in August 2001. Members of the university’s football team were screened using the cutting edge techniques. Rosser said additional Operation Beating Heart programs are planned for other schools.

Share this with Facebook Share this with Twitter Share this with LinkedIn Share this with Email Print this

Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326