Review: Epicardio Simulation v1.5 (Trial)

EDIT:

After writing this review, I got my hands on the full version. So this review continues here.

Epicardio offer a 60% discount to full-time students

Download for Windows/OSX:

  • Trial (Free)
  • Paid (£149-£215)

Developer: Epicardio.ltd

Studying ECG can be one hell of a mountain to climb, especially when you’re at the novice level of cardiac education. Due to how vital it is, it’s imperative that you can not only make the distinction between Mobitz II AV Block and sinus arrhythmia, but also understand the intricacies of the cardiac conduction behind them, and all of the other rhythm abnormalities. Learning these things like the back of your hand is one thing, but combining all that knowledge is, at times, overwhelming. So after 12 months of scouring the internet, trying to find a decent cardiac anatomy and 12-lead ECG simulation tool, I was over the moon to stumble upon Epicardio Simulation; a cardiac electrophysiology tutorial application, developed by Epicardio ltd.

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The program is available in 3 main forms; Epicardio ECG, ECG and Pacing, and 3-day trial. As I don’t have £149 kicking around (the price of the basic ECGcentric offering), I can’t review the full version and all of its features, but the 3 day trial version (which is £0), is well within my price range. Thus, I shall only be commenting on the features with which I have been able to sample.

Thankfully, the collection of features available to trial version users is still extensive, so I have lots to cover, and perhaps I’ll spring for the full version when funds allow. The question is: does the trial impress enough to warrant the large expense? Let’s investigate further:

Almost as soon as you open Epicardio, the vibrant display hits you; a large, anatomically accurate heart fills most of the screen as colourful depolarisation waves travel across the atria, and down through the ventricles. The live single lead ECG tracks with concordance, and the right hand menu buttons are nicely presented and clearly display exactly what they do.

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Depolarisation mechanics can be viewed through the heart as a whole, or each section on its own. Atria, ventricles, bundle branches and coronaries, can all be viewed independently whilst depolarisation occurs, so it’s possible to learn how the various components of the cardiac system operate during each cycle.

Further structural overlays can be added, in the form of the vena cava, thoracic cage and a translucent torso, further adding to the ability to understand the heart’s positioning in humans.

The electrical readout on the lower region of the screen comes with the option of cycling through all 12 leads on the standard ECG, individually, but as well the real time single lead ECG, users can also activate a live 12-lead, which again updates in real time with each cardiac cycle. This mode itself allows for different viewing styles, including the layout presented on most standard ECG printouts, which is perfect for students. It also features all the subtle morphology differences and minor, unavoidable muscle tremors that one would find on a real ECG recording. Calipers are a welcome feature, too, and they work well in Epicardio, allowing for measurements that students will definitely have to become proficient in throughout training.

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Further customisation options are numerous; the colours of the depolarisation waves are changeable, as is the colour of the backdrop. Rather than simply offering pre-set rhythms, Epicardio allows you to manually alter heart rate, and, possibly more importantly, AV delay, so it’s possible to visibly alter the depolarisation wave on the beating heart in the centre of the screen, and see the  live trace display a prolonged PR interval.

A most welcome feature is the electrode view option. A click on this button brings up a moving image of the heart within the thorax, and the standard precordial electrode sites. These electrodes can be moved anywhere and the real-time result displayed on the recorded trace, so it’s rather nice to be able to explore the difference in the voltage/time graph that occurs with electrode misplacement.

A defibrillator option allows you to shock the heart, although this was of limited use to me, as I did not have access to the fibrillatory rhythms that come with the paid version, but the artificial pacemaker below it allows the user to alter pacing pulses and observe the changes on the ECG.

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My issues with Epicardio range from those that exist simply because the version I tried is restricted, to those that are nought but minor niggles, so I shall focus on those minor niggles, as oppose to content I simply have not paid to access.

The ECG trace, whilst being incredibly customisable, would feel much more authentic if it were set against a proportional image of standard ECG paper; being able to view the trace against the background most students will see throughout studies would be a great primer in the early days of study, and considering the trace speed is adjustable, I was disappointed it wasn’t a feature.

The option buttons look lovely, offer genuine function and, once you’ve been through the tutorial and played around with them, make perfect sense. It would perhaps be helpful if a brief explanation appeared when the mouse pointer was placed over each one, however, as it was a struggle remembering what the more vague options actually did, especially for the first few hours of using the program.

However, as I stated, these are only minor gripes. Epicardio is a wonderful and genuinely fun bit of software to use. I’ve got a feel for how beneficial having this in the beginning of my studies would have been. The layout, options, functionality and simplicity of using Epicardio are all near-perfect, so I can’t wait to get a hold of the full version, complete with pacemaker-specific options. If you have a spare weekend, then follow the link at the top of the page, and download the free trial. If you have a spare £149/£215, then follow the same link and download the full version, as if it’s provides even 50% more features than the demo, I can be certain it’s worth it.

I will review the full version as soon as I can.

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Teaching

I’m not sure how many students know this, but once you’re qualified and working within a trust, a part of your job description denotes the expectation that you teach those who come after you, regardless of your job title or profession. Those mentors and staff that answer your questions whilst you’re on placement don’t get paid more for doing so and, for the most part, they don’t have special teaching roles. They do it to help and inspire you, and others, into being the best healthcare professionals that you can be, and one day, you’ll do that too.

I had my first taste of this, last week, when myself, fellow TSP writer OliGS and another student, along with two qualified physiologists, gave tech demonstrations, took Q&A’s and generally outlined the profession to a large group of medically-inclined 6th Form students. Oli had the joy of lying still and having successive Echo exams performed on him, but myself and the third student gave some ECG and BP demonstrations to small, rotating groups of young adults. They engaged a lot more than I initially thought they would, given that it was a hot day and the session was scheduled directly after lunch, but with a bit of cajoling, they performed simple 3-lead exams on one another, and took each other’s blood pressure. We answered all of the usual questions…

“Will this hurt?”

“Are you allowed to tell me if this shows I’m going to die”

“Will this electrocute me?”

…which aren’t entirely dissimilar to those put to us by patients, so it actually meant giving the same spiel, in response.

It was nerve-wracking, speaking candidly about your studies to strangers, especially when you don’t know at what level they are, with regards to cardiovascular anatomy, and when boring them is the last thing you want to do, so ensuring we spoke with enthusiasm was paramount. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only a couple of the students actually knew that HCS existed, so that added more of an incline to the mountain it felt we had to climb, but I’d happily do it again, as even one converted student feels like a victory, considering it was the first time I’d done anything like this. They seemed genuinely intrigued by diagnostics, and, after the aforementioned questions, asked some really challenging things about our role in wider healthcare, as well as about the equipment and techniques themselves. It’s odd to know that young students aren’t informed of all of the opportunities available them when they enter higher education, and it highlights the need for more publicity surrounding the scientific careers present in the process of patient care.

It’s difficult to know how to publicise this vein of science and healthcare, but there has to be a way; the disciplines and specialisms within it are at the forefront of diagnostic medicine and research, and are a truly rewarding endeavour for those willing to persevere through the sometimes unforgiving education pathways. If I’m invited back next year, I hope to convey some of that sentiment to the next batch of hopefuls, as, like me, they won’t look back once they start.

Thanks.

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The Art of Anatomy

Remember those  anatomy and physiology lectures that tortured you? Remember all that terminology that was relentlessly thrown at you for  hours every week? Remember the pop-quizzes? Remember wishing there was an easier way to store all the information you were given?

Of course you do.

A few institutions have employed a rather novel way of encouraging learning by doing, by combining art and anatomical learning. Cathal Breen of Analyse fame kindly sent me a copy of the University of Ulster’s journal outlining a study he was a part of, that brought the two disciplines together.

The study focuses on exactly what I outlined in the first paragraph: the difficulty in learning anatomical names and information via textbooks and lectures alone. Students from radiology and cardiac physiology formed groups and learned by painting anatomical structures on each other, using textbooks, presentations and spoken word.

By encouraging students and staff to engage in the teaching and learning process in this creative manner yielded incredibly positive results: student feedback referred to the sessions as “enjoyable”, “helpful” and “interesting”, citing the experience as one that makes things clearer, too. The study humorously points out that the first three statements are not things that have been used to describe A&P before (thanks to my own experience, I imagine this to be an indisputable fact).

Obviously, there may be issues with inhibition when it comes to each individual, so to get around this, painting onto clothing; t shirts, gloves etc, is an option. Lecturer participation is a must, so the whole thing seems to lend itself to full participation from everyone and bonding in a shared learning experience.

Students pointed out that this style of learning made them aware of discrepancies between actual anatomy and the pictures contained within the textbooks they used, and that gave them a better understanding of the internal geography present in the body. In recent years, the practice has been adopted by numerous institutions, and the twitter page @artandanatomy showcases some of the wonderful body-painted works of art that have cropped up across the globe.

So, what do you think? Would this be something you feel would make the learning process easier for you? Sound off in the comments below and let us know.

Ref:

Breen, C., Conway, S., Fleming, K.,. (2010) The Art of Teaching Anatomy – A Case Study. Perspectives on Pedagogy and Practice 1 (1), pp. 17-30.

Images courtesy of @artandanatomy 

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