Pocket echo has advantages over the stethoscope
March 30, 2015
OTTAWA – A device about the size of a smartphone is now enabling cardiologists at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute to generate images of patients’ hearts at the point of care, allowing them to make more informed diagnoses and to intervene earlier. The use of this new state-of-the-art technology has resulted in improved care and outcomes and could potentially reduce healthcare costs.
The pocket echo (echo is short for echocardiogram) is a portable ultrasound machine with a cardiac probe that provides doctors with significant information about the structure and function of the heart. The equipment typically used for echocardiograms is large and bulky, and not always practical in emergency situations. Physicians at the Heart Institute are now using the pocket echo to get instant pictures of a patient’s heart, right at the point of care.
“The Pocket Echo is undoubtedly gaining great momentum as a valuable, complementary tool to everyday diagnostics and we anticipate it to become part of standard practice as it adds significant data to our clinical decision making,” said Dr. Michel Le May, Director of the Heart Institute’s Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. Dr. Le May introduced the new device to the unit in 2013.
“Stethoscopes are key when it comes to listening to the heart and deduce what is wrong based on what we hear, but there is a certain element of imprecision,” added Dr. Le May.
Over 40 years ago, the development of the ultrasound was a giant step forward. Physicians had a non-invasive way to see and take pictures of what was happening in the heart and could base their diagnosis and treatment decisions on those pictures. Called echocardiograms, these images were a substantial advance in caring for cardiac patients, allowing cardiologists to see things they could not hear when using the stethoscope.
In roughly 80 percent of cases, the information physicians get from a stethoscope is sufficient. But about 20 percent of the time, the pocket echo offers new information that changes a diagnosis, informs a treatment plan and even guides an intervention, like the insertion of a needle to drain fluid from a chamber of the heart.
The Institute purchased its pocket echo in 2012, thanks to a generous donation. Since then, more than 5,000 images from more than 1,000 patients have been gathered. Physicians are now working through the data to determine the impact of the pocket echo on patient care and outcomes.
“It is a transformational development,” said Dr. Benjamin Hibbert, a cardiologist at the Heart Institute who spearheaded the Pocket Echo’s implementation at the Heart Institute in 2013, when he was Chief Resident. “When I go and practice elsewhere and don’t have access to it, I almost feel naked as it’s become so much a part of what I do.”