Face to Face: Trends in Cardiology

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Cardiology is a growing, rapidly evolving segment in the healthcare arena. The last several years have seen tremendous advances in cardiac imaging and information technologies, such as the introductions of the first magnetic catheter navigation system, 16-slice computed tomography (CT) systems that can detect soft coronary plaque, and new self-gating magnetic resonance (MR) software that eliminates the need to obtain an electrocardiogram (ECG) signal. At the same time, the number of cardiac patients is rising. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 1999 there were 7.1 million deaths from coronary heart disease globally. The WHO predicts that by 2020, this figure will rise to 11.1 million. Robert Dewey, director of Siemens Medical Solutions Cardiology Program, provides some insight into how cardiac care is changing for the better.

Q: How is imaging technology changing the face of cardiology?

A: In today's world of healthcare, there is the need for speed, accuracy and safety.  High-speed multi-slice CT scanners and MR systems are really stepping up to the plate as effective, less invasive imaging techniques for diagnosis and treatment planning. These modalities play complimentary roles with MR having its primary strength in functional imaging, while CT focuses on visualization of the coronary arteries. In echocardiography, new products offer the highest image quality available, from high-end systems to powerful, yet portable and lightweight systems.

Q: What role does technology play in detecting cardiac disease early?

A: The use of CT and MR technologies for non-invasive angiography applications is particularly notable in improving earlier detection of cardiac disease. For the first time, doctors can obtain hard evidence of heart disease without surgery. As they now have the tools to visualize soft plaque, long known by researchers to be the cause of heart attacks, they can catch signs earlier. Exams take less time, and immediate access to images allows for faster diagnosis and faster treatment. With its ability in stress echo testing and the increased sensitivity for the visualization of coronary arteries, echocardiography is also making a strong contribution in early detection.

Q: What affect does it have on the ever-growing statistics of heart disease?

A: For many patients with heart disease, the first real symptom is heart attack and occasionally death. But with these new tools for diagnosing disease in its earliest stages, technology is improving the chances of detecting and treating patients before that heart attack occurs. In all cases, time is critical for cardiac patients, and that is why information technologies are so important. When you can give clinicians the tools they need to more rapidly and accurately move from diagnosis to treatment, you enhance the patient's chances for recovery. All of these advances will ultimately have a positive affect, and help clinicians make inroads toward lowering the statistics of heart disease incidence.

Q: How important is integrating cardiology information with data throughout the hospital?

A: Delivering clinicians with all of the clinical data for a patient at the point of care is increasingly critical for best-in-class cardiology. Whether it's in a patient's hospital room, within the hospital, in a physician's office or home, or even on the go via a PDA, new solutions must present patient results and images with speed, superior image quality and in a standardized format. Systems like Siemens Soarian give access anytime, anywhere to a full electronic patient record (EPR), arming doctors with the information they need to make the best possible clinical decisions. This means avoiding errors and saving lives.

Q: How do filmless imaging and paperless files fit into this movement?

A: Filmless imaging is an important factor for improving workflow and patient care. A unique approach adopted in the development of all Siemens imaging systems has all modalities adopting a common platform known as syngo. This acts as the highway for seamless image exchange across modalities - allowing a cardiologist standing in the cath lab to query and display images for the patient that reside on the other image acquisition systems, such as nuclear medicine, MR or CT, without leaving his or her side. PACS provide accessibility to digital cardiology images and allow them to be viewed simultaneously in the cardiology department, the operating room and the physician's office. Digital