Heartworks Simulator speeds up training for staff

12 September 2018

Thanks to generous donations, Evelina London staff now have unlimited access to a Heartworks Simulator: state-of-the-art equipment that speeds up the training of staff who are learning to scan the hearts of young patients.

Staff training with the new Heartworks Simulator
Staff training with the new Heartworks Simulator

Scanning the heart

The heartworks system simulates the scanning of a heart, both through external scanning on top of the child's skin (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 children, who may not be cooperative, or in the case of children under general anaesthetic having a transesophageal scan, where there is limited time to act before 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 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, Evelina London has been able to buy a simulator to stay at the hospital permanently, meaning staff can use it at any time.

Dr Saleha Kabir is a Paediatric Echo Cardiographer. 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 meant you were in a safe environment and you can work for hours with no time pressure,’ she says. ‘Nobody’s sedated; nobody’s waiting to be woken up. With our patient population being children, where you don’t have the luxury of a lot of time and patience, it’s quite handy to be able to say, "you’ve got the confidence now, you can crack on". 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 identify complications during procedures more often, leading them to be acted on immediately.

‘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 and is a definite benefit to the patient.’

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