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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Review: BMJ Best Practice

Download the IOS app: Free

Download the Android app: Free

(In-app Purchases: £5-£60 approx.)

Developer: BMJ, London

 

BMJ Best Practice is an app that aims to aid diagnosis and guide the practitioner through the treatment process of a number of pathologies. Guidelines on examinations, tests and medications are provided across 977 topics. These are not all available initially; some conditions are presented as a free sample, whilst the rest must be purchased either in one go (£59.99), or by categories such as Critical Care and Emergency Medicine (£15.99), and Cardiovascular Disorders, Vascular and Cardiothoracic Surgery (£7.99). Institutional access is available, so if your trust/ university subscribes to the service, you can access all of the content for free.

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These are the good things BMJBP does. Unfortunately, it does a great deal worse when it comes to every other aspect of its content and execution.

Whilst the level of content is very good, straightforward and to the point, it’s unlikely that you’ll actually get to see any of it, as the sample pages don’t always load, and when they do, they don’t save. Frequently, I left the app to take a call, and returned to it to find it had rebooted. In addition, whilst the developer’s ability to extract the subscription fee for paid content suffers no problems, their ability to supply said content is non-existent. I purchased the “Cardiovascular Disorders…” category for £7.99, and was told by the “My Topics” section of the app, that I didn’t own any of the documents, yet was told by the “Subscribe” page, that I did..! Either way, I couldn’t (and still can’t) view any of the content I have paid for.

I sent an email over to the BMJ customer service department, and was politely informed that subscriptions were handled by Google, and there was nothing that BMJ could themselves do. As it turns out, subscribed content is entirely the responsibility of the BMJ, so when I pointed this out, and asked for a refund, I was met with a wall of silence that is currently ongoing.

Although it may be tempting to download this app, I strongly recommend that you do not; the content isn’t there, the app itself is buggy and the developer’s desire to help with problems is as present as the paid topics, in that both have yet to materialise. Judging by the user reviews left on Google Play, I am not the only user to have faced any of these problems, so it’s not as though the devs are unaware.

This app doesn’t do enough, regarding functionality, to warrant being this unfinished. It genuinely frightens me to think that someone was paid a wage to develop this, and even more frightening, is that the BMJ are charging for content, despite the numerous complaints of bugs and such. The app lists its last update as 2015, but lord knows what it addressed, or how much worse it was before, if this is considered sufficient.

This, dear reader, is how NOT to make a mobile app.

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Synap: Beta Test Update

Synap is an upcoming revision tool that is driven by students. The platform enables students to create their own multiple choice questions and upload them, then download those created by others. It’s possible to “follow” other users, as you would someone on Twitter or, incidentally, this site (you can do that in the sidebar of this page…), and take any quiz that they have created. Image upload and basic editing is supported, so quizzes for physiology, such as ECG arrhythmia or echocardiography quizzes are more than possible, and are one of the reasons I decided to get involved with the whole thing. In addition, the app tracks your progress and structures your revision for you, based on your course and modules.

I’ve spent the last week or so beta testing the Synap web platform or, more specifically, I’ve been taking tests and creating basic ECG quizzes to help bug test and check functionality.

The platform, as I’ve mentioned, is currently in closed beta and only present on the web, so without having an app and a larger number of users I cannot comment on it fully, but as it stands, the processes involved in creating a profile and quiz are incredibly simple; adding and annotating images is a cinch, and a complete question only requires the user to add a correct answer and a few wrong ones. Whilst I encountered a few bugs initially, the feedback I provided was swiftly taken on board and the problems were remedied overnight. Taking quizzes is incredibly simple, and all you need to do is click “take quiz” (shockingly), then select your answers and have them marked. You can take these as many times as you like, too, and if the creator has provided any, feedback will be available for each individual question.

My only concern is the reliance on the quiz-maker supplying the correct information. I’ve taken a quiz wherein the correct answer was the only one that was possible to be correct (think “What has tusks and a trunk? 1) Elephant 2)Belephant 3)Your hamster”) yet I was still told my answer was wrong. This is a closed beta, though and that’s what these processes are for. I know it hasn’t escaped the attention of the developers, so we shall see how it is dealt with.

To break all of this down and show you what I know for sure so far, have a look at this (incomplete) features list:

  • MCQs:
    • Image/annotation upload
    • Correct answer & up to 5 incorrect
    • Optional feedback for test-taker
    • Optional link to external learning resource
    • Test result calculation
    • Obtainable achievements
    • Personalised revision quizzes sent to you
  • Community links based on:
    • Course/Discipline
    • Cohort
    • Institution

I’ll add to this list the more familiar I become with the platform.

Omair and James, its creators, and the rest of the Synap team hope that this app will enable students nationwide to help each other and revise together, and it’s a pleasure for me to be involved, even if it’s only in a small way, currently. I’ll continue to post updates as things progress.

For more info, visit @Synap on twitter.

Thanks

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Review: AliveCor Mobile ECG Monitor (3rd gen)

Download the android app: Free

Purchase the monitor: £75 approx.

Developer: AliveCor, David Albert

Thus far, my reviews have been mostly confined to apps, with the only exception being Windows/Linux software, simECG. This review is quite exciting for me, as it involves a physical monitor as well as a companion app. I picked up the now world-famous AliveCor Mobile ECG Monitor a couple of days ago to road test it, and I’m pleased to say that for patients, it’s fantastic, and for students, it’s just as good.

As far as functionality goes, this app serves as a personal event monitor with a particular focus on atrial fibrillation, and it has a ton of nice features that make it a worthwhile investment for patients regular to cardiac departments.

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Out of the box, the dual-electrode plate can be attached to the back of your mobile device via an adhesive strip, or kept separate; AliveCor works either way, and if you do attach the monitor and change your phone, you can pick up additional attachment plates for around £6.

Obtaining a trace is a very quick process; it only took me a few seconds to open the app and begin recording, and the trace is saved automatically after 15 seconds, with the limit set at 30. The user is then presented with a series of tick-able boxes such as hand or chest ECG, and a notes section to document any symptoms. These are then stored with the trace.

In this video, you can see that AliveCor jumps straight into recording once fired up.

Heart rate and beat fluctuation are tracked and graphed automatically to allow patients to relate multiple recordings in conjunction with the particular activity being performed during monitor operation.

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In addition to this, the app comes with an algorithm that determines the presence of atrial fibrillation and keeps track of how many instances this occurs.

AliveCor offers a great deal of options when it comes to sharing data and to physical useage: once the trace has been recorded, the user can email it, save it as a fully notated PDF and print either from the app or a different program.

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Holding the device in your hands, as shown in the app instructions gives you a trace in lead I, and it’s possible to obtain leads II and III by placing the two electrodes in different areas of the body (I have provided these instructions at the bottom of the page). Handily, AliveCor doesn’t just measure biopotentials in the peripherals, but also in the chest. A Lewis lead configuration is possible to view atrial activity with more clarity.

I experienced a minor issue with artefact at the start of recording, but this was almost definitely user error, as AliveCor ‘steadies’ itself pretty quickly if you remain relaxed and support you arms. This learning curve is honestly the only problem I had with the product, and after 10 or so minutes, it wasn’t a problem at all. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I feel it’s fairly easy to get to grips with, so I doubt that your average patient would have too much trouble with it after a short while.

Traces themselves look very clean and, thanks to the standard calibration and the inclusion of a regular ECG paper grid, various amplitudes, intervals and waveforms can be measured manually. The trace screen also gives the option to invert the recording, and filter enhancement is selectable for each one.

As an event monitor, this device is invaluable. It comes with its own built-in symptom sheet and it’s incredibly quick and easy to record a good quality trace. AliveCor has been given the thumbs up from the FDA and NICE, so it’ll be interesting to see how the SCST view the monitor; I’ve reached out to them, but haven’t heard anything yet. If I do, I shall update accordingly.

I assume that in the U.S. this app allows patients to forgo some of the high cost of continued medical care by way of allowing the trace to be sent directly to a clinician for review. The UK version gives the option to send the trace to a Cardiac Physiologist for £5 and provides the analysis results within 24 hours, allowing the patient to present an official ECG report to their GP, should they need to.

As an added bonus, the AliveCor app has an educational area that features breakdowns of common arrhythmias and cardiac anatomy. The illustrations are aesthetically very pleasing and straightforward. The information contained within it is not as comprehensive as the information you’ll find in your lectures or textbooks, but it isn’t designed for the use of practitioners, so what is there is entirely sufficient.

All in all, AliveCor truly is a technical feat and not only does exactly what it sets out to do, but gives a glimpse of the future of ECG technology. This is an extremely good way for patients to become actively involved in their own heart health, with a relatively small price tag. The app provides a simple, intuitive UI and doesn’t require any Bluetooth connectivity between monitor and phone: it works right out of the box so that any patient can use it with ease. There’s a reason this product has garnered praise around the globe.

I will add that the device’s creator, Dr David Albert, is one of the nicest individuals with whom I have ever had the pleasure of conversing. His instructions for getting the most out of AliveCor for the purposes of this review have been invaluable, and even though he really didn’t have to, he answered every question I asked him, swiftly too. I’d like to thank David for being kind enough to help me get to grips with the product all the way from his residence in Oklahoma. Students need input such as this; it cements that we are valued and encourages learning outside of regular studies.

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Positioning data:

Lead I: LH – RH

Lead II: LL (knee) – RH

Lead III: LL – LH

Lewis: Electrode 1 on V1, device angled vertically

Is Mobile Echocardiography On The Horizon?

Smartphone and tablet technology is advancing at a rapid rate, so it should come as no surprise that it is being used for a variety of different purposes. Healthcare companies are finding novel ways to encourage patients to take charge of their own health; peripherals allow for BP measurement and three lead ECG monitoring in one’s own home, and it’s possible to measure your heart rate at rest and during exercise now, with software that comes as a pre-installed fitness suite on most modern devices.

It stands to reason, then, that these same companies would create clinical grade applications and device extensions that would benefit practitioners, also. I covered the use of Google Glass in revascularisation, already, but another device is making its way to the market at the moment, too; mobile ultrasound.

After unveiling it in 2014, Philips were granted FDA approval of their Luimfy system only a couple of weeks ago and have announced that it is now available for purchase in the US.

A $199 per month subscription, an Android phone/tablet and a micro USB probe are all you need, as the app and it’s peripheral are designed to work with compatible devices off-the-shelf.

In its current form, the scanning app allows practitioners to examine the gall bladder, abdomen and lungs, in addition to having obstetric, vascular, superficial, musculoskeletal and soft tissue functionality, so the device isn’t suitable for echocardiography, but I’m certain that in the future, given the power already available in modern devices, it’s a real possibility.

In UK hospitals, where space is a deciding factor for treatment options, having an ultrasound monitor that can fit in a small case would be a real boon. Emergency and critical care ultrasound is actually what the system was designed for, so it makes sense that the most obvious impact relates to time and accessibility.

Streamlining the healthcare process is paramount, and the fact that this system is based around an app could be a real advantage. The images gained by the practitioner can be shared via the cloud, so the network of professionals involved with one patient can have near instant access to the relevant materials needed for diagnosis. Philips could also provide continued software support and provide updates based on user feedback, without the need for engineer call outs.

Now, I’m no app developer (I’m trying. It’s rather complex…), but I do use them, so I can identify some common problems in cloud storage and functionality.

Firstly, as this is an Android app, it may present issues in performance across devices. There are a number of latency issues with apps for this OS and further issues regarding app performance in general from one device to another, especially if the base OS differs slightly between manufacturers (if you’ve tried to compare performance between Samsung and Google Nexus, you’ll know what I mean). In this case, Philips would have to be fairly on the ball with their customer support, especially given the subscription costs for practitioners.

I guess the issue with cloud storage brings us to patient confidentiality, as the last couple of years have seen some high profile cloud hacks leak “sensitive” data to the public, but many hospitals are already digital, so surely it’s a case of ensuring the level of security is appropriate.

As far as echo goes, the advantage of switchable probes and live, cloud updating comes into its own; echo features could be added with an update, in theory. It’s a case of making it happen. It’s unlikely, but if I ever get a chance to try one, I’ll make sure to tell you of my experience.

For more information, go here: http://www.ifa.philips.com/news/digital-innovations/philips-lumify

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Review: Analyze ECG Reporting

Download for Google Play: Free

Download for iOS: Free

Developer: Cathal Breen

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When you’re just beginning to get to grips with analysing a 12-lead, taking a methodical approach is recommended, but in practice that’s easier said than done. Remembering what you’re measuring, and in what order you’re measuring it, is sometimes confusing, especially when, like me, you’re still getting your head around the various concepts behind the plethora of arrhythmias and pathological morphologies you’re likely to find in a patient ECG.

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I’ve already covered the tutorial apps documenting normal and abnormal values that I felt were most beneficial to PTP students, but Analyze ECG Reporting by Cathal Breen exists solely to guide the practitioner through each, single analysis and serves as a methodical reminder of everything that should be documented in your report.

Analyse is nicely presented, with a very simple user interface set up for each section. The display contains boxes for measured values, buttons to advance to the next measurement, or to go back to make corrections and some pop-up menus for comments on the ECG waves. It doesn’t suffer from a text overload, or clutter in any way. The colour scheme is visually appealing, but conservative, so when using the app, you’re kept on task and not distracted by needless images or too many different colours.

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This app is merely a way to educate practitioners into using the same approach to study each trace. It may seem like an obvious thing to point out, as ECG cannot provide a diagnosis on its own, but Analyse is not an algorithm that will diagnose a pathology for you.
This is not to diminish this app’s merits whatsoever, though. Analyse does a great job of clarifying the process of ECG analysis and provides a list of the necessary things to include when reporting. Since installing it, I have used it to methodically review lots of the traces I’ve obtained, including those set in my coursework.

In fact, my only problem with Analyse ECG Reporting is in correcting mistakes from the drop down menu. A long press on the option that you have selected will remove it from the final list, but this isn’t explained at any point. It took me a little while to figure it out, so some brief instructions wouldn’t have gone amiss upon starting up the app for the first time. It’s a minor niggle and it didn’t detract from my overall experience with Analyse, however.

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Consistency and a methodological approach are key parts of analysis, and Analyse ECG Reporting is a great trainer. This app is a must have for PTP students, but I’d recommend it to any student who’ll have more than a passing dalliance with electrocardiograms.

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The Best Apps For Student Physiologists

(in my opinion and predominantly found on android)

EDIT: I have added a 5th app at the bottom of the page, “Read by QxMD”.

My bus journey to university can take anywhere from 1.5 to 2.25 hours, depending on how willing the driver is to break the speed limit, so I try my best to make good use of the time available.
It can be rather cumbersome to hold a textbook when the bus is full and the constant movement makes it rather difficult to follow the words on a page, so I downloaded a few apps to help pass the time as well as study and, as you can imagine, some of them have been better than others.
So that you don’t have to spend your wages/student loan unnecessarily, I’ve decided to share those few apps that have either interested me, or helped me during the PTP programme so far.

I’ve omitted any apps that are effectively digital print textbooks, as these are often promoted in both Google Play and the App Store, costing £20-30 and are nowhere near as difficult to find as a couple of these picks.
I’m also not suggesting that you get all of these apps, either; were it not for this post, I wouldn’t have them all. Everyone learns differently, so you’ll probably need one or two at most.

All of these prices are correct at the time of posting, but if any have changed, let me know and I’ll update them accordingly.

 

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1.) ECGsource, Cathsource, Echosource (ECGsource LLC)
 Google Play: £1.92, £2.54, £3.03
App Store:      £0.79, £2.29, £2.29

These three apps provide a great deal of content and are very reasonably priced, but ECGsource on it’s own is the app that will benefit Y1&2 PTP students the most. It contains information and analysis parameters for a very large number of pathologies, videos to help you understand key principles in ECG science and a tutorial on reading a normal ECG.
This app is a personal favourite of mine, not just for the number of arrhythmias it covers, but for the examples it gives in addition to these.
If you have an android device and you can only get one app, make it this one.

Screenshot_2015-10-05-21-09-05~22.) ECG Practical Demo (One 2 One Medicine LTD)
Google Play: Free
App Store:     N/A

This app isn’t nearly as easy to follow as ECGsource, but is still packed with content once you know what you’re doing. It also contains a rate/R-R correction tool, a set of digital calipers and an easy to use axis calculator for measurements on the go.
There is a paid version of this app available to purchase, but if you spend a couple of quid, you’ll get all the same information with better quality examples by getting ECGsource or QxMD. For the tools you get with the free version, however, you can check your answers on analysis assignments for free, making this worth a look.

I’m yet to find an app with all of these features on the App Store, but, if I’m honest, I started running out of money whilst wading through the plethora of terrible apps out there, so stopped looking.

Screenshot_2015-10-05-17-24-33~23.) 100 ECG Cases for Finals (One 2 One Medicine LTD)
Google Play: Free
App Store:     N/A

A quiz featuring (shockingly) 100 ECG Cases for you to analyse and be graded on.
Quizzes are grouped into categories such as Uncommon Arrhythmias, Supraventricular Arrhythmias, etc, so you can really fine-tune your skills in a particular area.
100 ECfF doesn’t offer any tutorials, so obviously it’s recommended that you have some knowledge from other sources before you have a go at it, but it’s made for USMLE finals, so it’s a handy thing to have as you progress.

It isn’t available on iOS, but ACLS Rhythm Quiz is the best option over on the App Store, costing £0.79

Screenshot_2015-10-05-20-42-30~24.) QxMD ECG Guide (QxMD)
Google Play: £3.19
App Store:     £0.79

Much the same as ECGsource, but seemingly optimised for iDevices, this app has everything a PTP student could need for ECG analysis and arrhythmia recognition. This great app also comes with a handy analysis tool that can you can use to check your answers when you’re practicing.

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5.) Read by QxMD (QxMD)

Google Play: Free

App Store:    Free

This app is a wonderful way to tailor your journal reading experience to suit your course needs. New updates and articles are available frequently and are all viewable and searchable within the app. I have personally found this tool to be invaluable when trying to further understand the nuances of pathologies within cardiac science.

Hopefully these will help you along your programme as much as they have me.

Thanks!

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