1-Minute Consult

Do all hospital inpatients need cardiac telemetry?

Author and Disclosure Information



No. Continuous monitoring for changes in heart rhythm with cardiac telemetry is recommended for all patients admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU). But routine telemetry monitoring for patients in non-ICU beds is not recommended, as it leads to unnecessary testing and treatment, increasing the cost of care and hospital length of stay.


Telemetry is generally recommended for patients admitted with any type of heart disease, including:

  • Acute myocardial infarction with ST-segment elevation or Q waves on 12-lead electrocardiography (ECG)
  • Acute ischemia suggested by ST-segment depression or T-wave inversion on ECG
  • Systolic blood pressure less than 100 mm Hg
  • Acute decompensated heart failure with bilateral rales above the lung bases
  • Chest pain that is worse than or the same as that in prior angina or myocardial infarction.1,2

Indications for telemetry are less clear in patients with no history of heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA)3 has classified admitted patients based on the presence or absence of heart disease3:

  • Class I (high risk of arrhythmia): acute coronary syndrome, new arrhythmia (eg, atrial fibrillation or flutter), severe electrolyte imbalance; telemetry is warranted
  • Class II (moderate risk): acute decompensated heart failure with stable hemodynamic status, a surgical or medical diagnosis with underlying paced rhythms (ie, with a pacemaker), and chronic arrhythmia (atrial fibrillation or flutter); in these cases, telemetry monitoring may be considered
  • Class III (low risk): no history of cardiac disease or arrhythmias, admitted for medical or surgical reasons; in these cases, telemetry is generally not indicated3

Telemetry should also be considered in patients admitted with syncope or stroke, critical illness, or palpitations.

Syncope and stroke

Despite the wide use of telemetry for patients admitted with syncope, current evidence does not support this practice. However, the AHA recommends routine telemetry for patients admitted with idiopathic syncope when there is a high level of suspicion for underlying cardiac arrhythmias as a cause of syncope (risk class II-b).3 In 30% of patients admitted with stroke or transient ischemic attack, the cause is cardioembolic. Therefore, telemetry is indicated to rule out an underlying cardiac cause.4

Critical illness

Patients hospitalized with major trauma, acute respiratory failure, sepsis, shock, or acute pulmonary embolism or for major noncardiac surgery (especially elderly patients with coronary artery disease or at high risk of coronary events) require cardiac telemetry (risk class I-b). Patients admitted with kidney failure, significant electrolyte abnormalities, drug or substance toxicity (especially with known arrhythmogenic drugs) also require cardiac telemetry at the time of admission (risk class I-b).

Recurrent palpitations, arrhythmia

Most patients with palpitations can be evaluated in an outpatient setting.5 However, patients hospitalized for recurrent palpitations or for suspected underlying cardiac disease require telemetric monitoring (risk class II-b).3 Patients with high-degree atrioventricular block admitted after percutaneous temporary pacemaker implantation should be monitored, as should patients with a permanent pacemaker for 12 to 24 hours after implantation (risk class I-c). Also, patients hospitalized after implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) shock need to be monitored.3,6

Patients with a paced rhythm who do not meet the above criteria do not require routine telemetric monitoring (risk class III-c).7

Next Article:

Perioperative cardiovascular medicine: 5 questions for 2018

Related Articles

  • Reviews

    Is telemetry overused? Is it as helpful as thought?

    Cardiac telemetry is widely used in hospitals, but it is expensive and labor-intensive. Therefore, it should be used only in those most likely to...