Healthcare Science Week 2018 – #2

In amongst busy shifts, I’ve been tweeting about HCS Week 2018, and chatting to other scientists about their experiences. Yesterday, I tweeted a picture of Helen, a specialist Echocardiographer, whilst she was hard at work analysing pulse wave data, and today I’m sharing the answers she gave to a couple of questions I asked her about what she remembers about the history of her job in her 30 years of experience, and her feelings on the changes she’s seen over the years.

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With 30 years under your belt, you must have noticed changes in your profession. What’s different now, compared with when you started?
Firstly, my job title has changed. I was a “Cardiac Technician” and began as a student working in Cardio-Respiratory, with a full-time, guaranteed job at the end of my training. I studied on a day-release basis for an ONC then HNC, eventually topping up to BSc when this became compulsory.  
 
Technology has had a big impact on advancement of procedures, which is better for patient quality of life, etc; Cardiac Techs performed all the ECG’s in the hospital, carrying a crash bleep for A&E, and now, of course, there is provision for ECG’s on every ward and dept.
Procedures such as angioplasty and bi-vent pacemakers were not as widely available, either; most CAD patients went on to undergo CABG and only relatively basic bradycardia devices were on offer. Obviously this is all change now.
Alongside this, we are now much busier than ever before and our roles have changed massively. We now carry out duties which years ago only consultants could do. I think this is good for everyone but does mean we have much more responsibility, in addition to greater autonomy. We are, however, still part of a team, which is vital to remember.
Did you have any reservations about the changing nature of your specialism?
I used to worry that becoming more busy and more academic would threaten our profession, that less qualified staff would have to take on more of our roles. Fortunately, routes into this career seem to be more widely available and thus, accessible. Emphasis seems to be more about finding the right person for the job, and training is focused, usually by specialist Scientists who understand the needs of both the students and patients.
 
It’s important to realise that anyone can be shown how to perform an ECG or assist in a cath lab, but qualities such as initiative, kindness and compassion are inherent traits which cannot be taught, and are absolutely vital in this profession.

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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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Q. What Natural Phenomenon Can Speak In Any Language?

Echo_TTEA. An echo.

EDIT 17/9/15:

It has been brought to my attention that I didn’t word some of my last post particularly well. Upon looking this over, this is indeed the case.

It was not my intention to convey that healthcare scientists need not perform ECGs I intended to imply that whilst on my last placement, physiologists did not perform them, it was the responsibility of the A.T.O. hence, this is what led my mentor to say what they did regarding newly qualified and echo. This may not be the case across all trusts.

I neglected to include that due to the advanced nature of the practise of echocardiography, it is not featured in the PTP program. (This is good news for me and anyone else currently studying this degree, as I shudder to think of the extra workload that would be associated with it).

If in future I make an error such as this, let me know and I shall endeavour to rectify it.

Many thanks,

TSP.

ORIGINAL POST:

Having seen what trust-employed cardiac physiologists are required to do, it seems rather strange to me that echocardiography isn’t really taught in either the PTP or STP programmes. By all accounts, it’s touched upon in the final stretch of the STP pathway, but not in a comprehensive manner. Assistant Technical Officers perform the vast majority of ECGs in my trust, so it isn’t necessary for qualified healthcare scientists to be placed in that area. My mentor told me that her cardiology department needs echocardiographers and that the discipline is underinstructed by the universities. Bear in mind this is only because it isn’t a part of the syllabus as it’s not currently required by the framework of Modernising Scientific Careers.
As a result, the trust I have been stationed in has taken to rounding up the students and providing its own echo tutorials after the working day is finished.
This is a great idea and is beyond the call of duty for the department physiologists, but it doesn’t strike me as something that should fall to the trust to have to subsidise. Echo is an increasingly utilised skill and the one that hospitals need their physiologists to be proficient in. If it isn’t being taught at undergraduate or masters level, then trusts will have to pay for the training and overtime required to bring their staff up to speed with each new generation of practitioners.

Over the summer, my university has purchased an echocardiography unit, so I assume we’ll have a bit of a head start, but surely if the practice of echocardiography is so important in the profession, it’s something that should be mandatory to teach in the academic training. Perhaps this is something that will be factored into the equation as the PTP and STP courses continue to change over time.

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