From Electrical Signals to Heartbeats: Highlighting Healthcare Science Week

15th March 2023
Michael Toal, Chief Cardiac Physiologist

You may not know this, but Cardiac Physiologists are Healthcare Scientists who diagnose 80% of all cardiac conditions.

The Cardiac Investigation Units within the South Eastern HSC Trust have witnessed a rise of more than 12,000 specialist investigations since 2017, which translates into a 59% increase in activity over the past six years.

Cardiac Physiology is not just important for diagnosing and treating heart disease, it is also key to maintaining overall cardiovascular health.  It provides an insight into the functions and processes of the heart, including the electrical and mechanical events that occur during a heartbeat, the regulation of blood flow, and the interactions between the heart and other organs in the body.

Cardiac Physiologists play a vital role in essential Cardiology Services within the hospital setting, including emergency care, theatres and direct access GP care where they perform, analyze, report and advise on a range of diagnostic investigations such as ECG, blood pressure monitoring and exercise stress testing.

Chief Cardiac Physiologist, Michael Toal who is based in the Cardiac Investigation Unit in the Ulster Hospital explains, “My role as a Cardiac Physiologist is primarily focused in the field of cardiac rhythm management within the Pacemaker Clinic at the Ulster Hospital. This involves the continual review and optimisation of therapy for patients with pacemakers and other implantable cardiac devices, it provides an essential tool in the long term monitoring and treatment of patients who require pacemaker therapy.

“The ability to provide almost continuous  monitoring of cardiac patients via home technology has enabled our Pacemaker Clinic to provide medical staff and ourselves with the diagnostic evidence for optimal patient treatment with improved outcomes.”

The role extends into other highly specialised areas including Echocardiography where Cardiac Physiologists carry out Echocardiograms (an ultrasound of the heart), stress echo, contrast studies and Transesophageal Echo. The Echo Team play a key role in the diagnostic pathway of patients with suspected cardiac disorders as well as providing long term assessment to assist and optimise the treatment of patients that attend Valve and Heart Failure Clinics.

Cardiac Physiologists also work as part of a larger multidisciplinary team within the Cardiac Catheterisation Lab which involves the monitoring and analysis of patient haemodynamics during coronary angiographic and cardiac implantable electronic device procedures.

There is a need to expand the Healthcare Scientist workforce to deliver the potential benefits that advancements in medical and device technology can bring to patients. Despite these pressures, we continue to deliver safe and excellent patient care by seeking to continually improve, integrate and coordinate the way our care is delivered.