Echocardiography is the most important imaging technology to examine the neonatal heart. It is central in diagnosing congenital heart disease, one of the leading causes of neonatal mortality and morbidity in the developed world. Beyond that, examining the neonatal heart by echocardiography has emerged as essential in the management of sick neonates and preterm babies. One of the drawbacks of echocardiography is its user-dependency and its necessary high level of expertise. This expertise can only be achieved with considerable hands-on training. The delicate nature of neonates prohibits the acquisition of the necessary skills on sick patients. Simulation technology has increasingly become a standard in medical training. EchoCom|Neo now offers the opportunity to train echocardiography in neonates without putting patients at risk.
Echocom|Neo is the first ultrasound simulator worldwide dedicated to train echocardiography in infants and newborns. It is the result of 20 years of experience in simulation in echocardiography. The EchoCom simulator is based on real 3D ultrasound data. We believe that realistic data provide better acquisition of skills and knowledge than virtual models.
However, virtual models can help understand the 3D anatomy of the heart and its spatial relationship to the scan plane. We have therefore applied the concept of augmented reality that couples real and virtual data. A virtual probe and scan plane demonstrates this relationship through side-by-side presentation of the virtual and echocardiographic image. Echocom|Neo is designed to impart the two core skills needed by beginners: spatial sense and hand-eye-coordination.
For the beginner in echocardiography data sets of normal hearts allow users to understand the complex anatomy of the heart, its visual presentation by echocardiography and to practice the movements required to obtain standard planes. The more advanced trainee can scan the database for typical neonatal cardiac problems and congenital heart diseases.
Echocom|Neo is used by leading neonatal and cardiac medical centers, among others SickKids in Toronto, (the Canadian TnEcho National Collaborative), University of Iowa, USA (Prof. McNamara), Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, USA (Dr. Groves), Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, USA (Prof. Lopez), Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, USA (Dr. Manrique), the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, Ireland (Dr. Al-Khuffash), University of Cambridge, UK (Dr. Singh), Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, The Netherlands (Prof. de Boode) and University Hospital of North Tees, Durham University Stockton, UK (Dr. Gupta).
We believe that this is a fantastic way to increase the exposure of neonatal and cardiology trainees to the whole range of structural abnormalities that newborn babies can have. For novice scanners in the NICU we think the simple act of getting your hands on the echo probe, getting used to seeing what a heart should look like, how the images change as you tilt and rotate the probe, will be a key foundation step in learning to perform echocardiography"
Dr. Alan Groves, Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City, USA
We have expanded EchoCom|Neo to include other organs. The echocardiography simulator thus matures to a full body ultrasound simulator. The first organ that we have implemented is the neonatal brain. As in the echocardiography module there are cases of normal cranial ultrasound as well as pathologies. We are now working on abdominal and lung ultrasound that we will include in the near future.
Echocom|Neo consists of a dummy manikin and a dummy probe, a 3D tracking device and a computer with pre-installed software. The simulator fits in a custom made case to allow easy transport. On a split screen a virtual scene is presented side-by-side with a 2D echocardiograhic image derived from a 3D data set based on the tracked position of the dummy probe. Due to the use of real 3D data, the derived 2D image is highly realistic.
The images can be manipulated to adjust brightness, contrast, view standard planes or alter the heart rate. The virtual scene consists of a 3D heart that can be rendered transparent to see the valves, the thorax and a virtual ultrasound probe.
The manikin is a custom made life-sized newborn. The abdomen and neck are soft to allow indentation, while the thorax is made of less compressible material. The transmitter that is used for the tracking is incorporated into the manikin. A special silicon composition provides a highly realistic skin feel.
The use of real 3D data enables us to build up a data base with a large number of case studies with all types of cardiac diseases. Our library encompasses data sets with the most common congenital cardiac defects and acquired heart diseases. Therefore it is suitable for physicians and technicians working in the field of pediatric cardiology and neonatologists performing echocardiography, so called targeted or functional neonatel echocardiography.
The Echocom simulator is a state of the art interface which enhances the learning experience for trainees in the early part of their learning. In Canada we are now integrating the Echocom simulator into the curriculum of neonatal trainees who are learning Targeted Neonatal Echocardiography. It provides an accessible and feasible way to increase the trainees knowledge of congenital heart disease. We are most appreciative of the opportunity to use the simulator and thank Michael and Stefan for developing this for us. It is an incredible asset to neonatologists interested in learning echocardiography"
Prof. Patrick McNamara, Director, Division of Neonataology, University of Iowa, USA
Training could also be augmented by use of simulators in neonatal echocardiography that are increasingly used for teaching on echocardiography courses. This could help in developing skills in acquiring standard echocardiographic views and recognizing common congenital heart conditions.”
Expert consensus statement ‘Neonatologist-performed Echocardiography (NoPE)’—training and accreditation in UK. Singh-Y et al. EurJPediatr(2016)175:281–287
The use of simulators for training in neonatologist performed echocardiography is now endorsed by the European Society for Neonatology.
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