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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, especially for changes in blood pressure and the rate and rhythm of the heart.

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 from one place, for signs of trouble.
The healthcare professional who admits a person to the hospital decides what level of care he or she needs. An individual is sent to the telemetry unit when the professional is 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 intensive care unit but 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 the heart rate and rhythm using an electrocardiogram (ECG). Blood pressure, rate of breathing, temperature, and level of oxygen in the blood can also be measured if needed. 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 these 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 and if any ominous changes in the heartbeat occur, treatment can be given swiftly.
Other than the increased level of monitoring, the telemetry unit is essentially the same as a regular inpatient unit. The monitoring equipment can sometimes be annoying for the patient. 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.
However, 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, sometimes a person is sent home directly from the telemetry unit. In other cases, he or she is first moved to a regular bed until ready for discharge home.


Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 1998, Fauci et al.

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