Healthcare professionals need help to help others

In my 20 years career as a healthcare professional, performing echocardiographic exams, I am faced with a huge, but for years, severely underestimated problem. The problem of getting to a point where doing the job you love, helping people, becomes painful. Many echo specialists are faced with work-related muscoskeletal pain (WRMSP). A recent publication in the Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography (JASE) described this issue extensively in a multisite cross-sectional study/survey. Some of their conclusions were:

  1. WRMSP was common among cardiac sonographers, up to 86% reported WRMSP
  2. Cardiac sonographers missed workdays more frequently, had work restrictions, or changed responsibilities because of WRMSP as compared to peer employee control subjects

These complaints are caused by several factors, like straining posture during image acquisition, which is worse when people are obese. (Yes, your tummy can get in the way when a sonographer does the exam).

Now of course WRMSP is not restricted to cardiac sonographers, because there are many more professions where this is an issue. However, in my case, over the years I tried a lot to prevent WRMSP, ranging from decreasing scan-time, tried scanning with my left hand instead of my usual right to super ‘high-tech’ chairs and going to the gym. In the end basically concluding that despite all potentially helpful measures, this profession remains, literally, a backbreaking one.

And that’s only the scanning part

What an echo specialist does after all the images are acquired is the analysis of those images. First, they sift through all images that have been taken, to find the specific one they need to do a specific measure. For every exam, are multiple frames to identify and even more measurements to perform. This leads up to a tremendous amount of mouse clicks per exam, which is nothing less than an extra cause of WRMSP, but now in a slightly different area.

Example of 3 basic measurements in 1 view (Parasternal Long Axis, PLAX view), note that for every measurements the specialist has to do 2 clicks)

So why is this a problem?

Well in the past decade we have see the cardiovascular problem grow more explosively then every, which is not that weird since our population is aging. But with the aging population and growing demand for healthcare, the shortages of healthcare professionals are also growing. More specific, global shortages for echo specialists are huge already without them missing workdays because their jobs are breaking their backs. The thing is most of the ‘soldier on’ simply because they love what they do and have an almost fanatical urge to help people, at least that’s what I experience from colleagues all over the world. 

Any solutions?

Well we can’t stop aging, so that’s out of the question, … technology has, in the last decade, brought handheld scanners, even scanners that you can connect to your iPhone. The latter means that echo is becoming available to the masses, also untrained users. Which might partially solve the lack of sonographers. For example, handheld scanners potentially enable your own general practitioner to acquire images, even helping them through augmented reality, telling them where to put the probe and how to tilt/rotate. Well that solves the acquisition part, partially, of course for super detailed imaging we will always be dependent on experienced and well train specialists.

This development also poses new challenges, because without training it is hard to interpret an echo image of the heart. To be more precise even trained echo professionals interpret and measure echo’s differently and come to different conclusions in some cases. Here is the part where is working hard to make a difference. By utilizing artificial intelligence, we can identify views from echo exams, do measurements as in the best centers by the best trained professionals. Hence, we’ve created the perfect AI assistant for the healthcare professionals in need.

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