Heartworks Simulator - improving patient care

Thanks to generous donations staff at Guy’s and St Thomas’ now have unlimited access to a Heartworks Simulator, state-of-the-art equipment used to fast-track trainees to more advanced learning stages of scanning patients’ hearts.

A staff member with the Heartworks Simulator
A staff member with the Heartworks Simulator

Scanning the heart

The Heartworks system simulates the scanning of a heart, both through external scanning on top of the skin which is similar to a baby scan (transthoracic), and internal scanning which is carried out by inserting a probe into the gullet (transesophageal). These types of scans are used to detect or assess a number of conditions such as problems with the valves, holes within the heart, or the narrowing of structures that affect blood flow. The equipment is proving invaluable to trainees who would be up against many constraints if they were only able to practise on live patients, the method used when John Simpson, professor of paediatric and foetal cardiology, was in training. Challenges arise particularly in the case of a patient under general anaesthetic having a transesophageal scan, when there is limited time available until they need to be brought out of sedation.

‘It’s a bit like driving a car,’ says Professor Simpson. ‘You’ve got to be able to work out what’s coordinated with what, and work out the technique to get the important views of the heart. When we’re training people to do that, it’s key that we’re able to get them to a certain level before letting them loose on patients. The simulator is allowing us to fast-track people towards what is a vital practical skill.’

Highly accurate imaging

The machine produces standard views of the heart that would be obtained from a real-life ultrasound scan and also generates highly accurate anatomic moving images. It can simulate the varying symptoms that lead to the diagnosis of heart conditions, allowing trainees to learn how to work through each one and what to look for. Training is delivered in around 10 sessions over a three month period alongside an online learning programme that staff are required to pass. Other hospitals can run similar training, but have to hire the equipment. Thanks to its generous supporters, Guy’s and St Thomas’ has been able to buy a simulator to stay at the hospital permanently, meaning staff can use it at any time, regardless of whether it’s part of their training. Dr Saleha Kabir is a paediatric echocardiographer. She has been through the training programme and continues to use the Heartworks Simulator for practice, although she prefers to refer to it as Bob.

‘It means you were in a safe environment and you can work for hours with no time pressure,’ she says. ‘Transesophageal scans are invasive and I was quite a novice – I’d never done it before – so it was a great way of learning because you didn’t actually have something down someone’s throat. I spent a lot of time practising on it before I was let loose on anybody real.’

Better, faster care

The fast-tracking of trainees has meant more qualified staff are available to undertake these scans on patients. This helps complications to be identified during procedures more often and seen to right away. ‘It’s one of the things that makes the actual care better and faster,’ says Professor Simpson. ‘We’re doing these procedures day in day out – hundreds per year. Being able to purchase equipment like this makes the difference to go the extra mile and be of definite benefit to the patient.’

Your support enables us to buy state-of-the-art equipment like this that improves patient care.