Training in critical care echocardiography: Both sides of the atlantic

Published on 22/03/2015 by admin

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Training in critical care echocardiography: Both sides of the atlantic


Echocardiography provides intensivists with a means of rapidly assessing the anatomy and function of the heart in intensive care unit (ICU) patients with hemodynamic failure, thus guiding management. Since echocardiography is a key skill for frontline intensivists, developing effective training programs is essential to ensure that clinicians have competence in the field. This chapter discusses some issues related to training in critical care echocardiography (CCE) while considering the challenges from both the European and North American perspectives. Information in this chapter is relevant for two groups: for intensivists who seek to develop competence in CCE, it provides a guide for the process of training, and for intensivists who have the responsibility to train others to become proficient in CCE, it provides guidance for process development.

The North American Challenge

Roughly 6000 intensivists (at the attending level) in the United States need training in CCE. These frontline clinicians work on a full-time basis in the ICU and have the potential to use CCE as a primary bedside imaging modality. Some of these intensivists are faculty at fellowship programs and have the responsibility of training fellows in CCE. In the United States in 2011, 170 fellowship training programs under the specialty of internal medicine offered training in critical care medicine. These programs graduated 545 fellows with an additional 89 from anesthesiology-based critical care programs. CCE is an essential part of their training. For the individual fellow or attending intensivist, the question is how to become competent in CCE. At the system level, the challenge is how to provide training in CCE to many thousands of intensivists at both the fellow and attending levels.1-3

The European Challenge

Europe has 49 self-governing countries, 27 of which are member states of the European Union. The health care systems in each of these countries are different, as is the status of critical care itself, thus providing considerable challenges when considering the development of unified training programs. Accreditation in echocardiography at a European level is run by the European Association of Cardiovascular Imaging (formerly known as the European Association of Echocardiography) under the auspices of the European Society of Cardiology. Certification in intensive care medicine is provided at a national level. The European Society of Intensive Care Medicine, which aims to promote and coordinate activities, foster research and education, and provide recommendations for optimizing facilities in intensive care medicine, runs a diploma service in intensive care medicine but is not responsible for certification or accreditation. As in North America, for the individual intensivist in training the challenge is how to become competent in CCE. With the different systems that exist in Europe, the challenge of providing training has devolved to the individual nations. The role of regulatory bodies and relevant international societies is rather to provide guidance regarding the key skills and level of competence required in CCE for nations to be able to devise the most appropriate training program given the way that intensive care is structured in their own country.

International statements: Competence and training

The goal of training both for the individual and for the training system is competence; hence the latter must be explicitly defined. At an international level this was undertaken as a cooperative venture when a working group consisting of representatives from France and the United States coauthored a statement that defined competence in critical care ultrasonography.4 The document “American College of Chest Physicians/La Société de Réanimation de Langue Françoise Statement on Competence in Critical Care Ultrasonography” reviews the elements that define competence in CCE. At this point the statement on competence is commonly accepted as a guide that defines the goals of training for CCE.

The statement on competence defines basic-level and advanced-level CCE. Basic CCE comprises a number of standard views for assessment of cardiac function (parasternal long- and short-axis, apical four-chamber, long-axis subcostal, and longitudinal inferior vena cava views) to categorize and guide management of hemodynamic failure. Basic CCE includes the use of basic color Doppler techniques, but no additional type of Doppler measurement is included. Advanced CCE requires competence in standard cardiology-type echocardiography and includes additional elements that are applicable to critical care medicine, such as measurement of stroke volume and preload sensitivity, as well as estimation of left-sided filling pressure and lung ultrasonography. Training in advanced CCE requires a level of study identical to that for cardiology echocardiographers. It includes training in transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) when the equipment is available. Currently, most intensivists in the United States and many in Europe do not have access to TEE, although this is rapidly changing. Although competence in basic CCE is desirable for all intensivists, competence in advanced CCE is not needed by all. Some proportion of intensivists may desire training in advanced CCE, but what number is unknown.

The statement on competence clearly defines competence in CCE and is designed to be a “road map” for training. Following its writing, representatives from major critical care organizations from around the world met in Vienna in 2009 to develop guidelines for training in critical care ultrasonography. The resulting document titled “International Expert Statement on Training Standards for Critical Care Ultrasonography” represents the consensus of the working group. It addresses the question of how to become competent in both basic and advanced CCE.5

Regarding basic CCE, the Vienna group adopted the statement on competence as the foundation document that summarized the goals of training. For basic CCE, it was agreed that 10 hours of course work that combines lecture, didactic cases, and image interpretation constituted the minimum requirement for cognitive training in CCE. A minimum of 30 fully supervised studies was suggested as a goal for image acquisition training. Initial training could take place on normal subjects, but training should include scanning of patients in the ICU under supervision of a local expert. A logbook should be maintained to document scanning activity. Review of a comprehensive collection of images with abnormal findings should be required for training in image interpretation. Training in TEE remained an optional part of training in basic CCE. Regarding advanced CCE, it was suggested that 40 hours of course work, 150 transthoracic echocardiographic (TTE) studies, and 50 supervised TEE studies constituted the minimum requirement for training. Review of a comprehensive image collection, initial training on normal subjects, and bedside scanning under direct supervision of a local expert were also considered necessary to complete advanced CCE training. The Vienna group decided that a formal certification process was not required for basic CCE. Regarding advanced CCE, the group suggested that a formal certification process was required to ensure competence given the complexity of training and the need for recognition of a high skill level by colleagues and administrative entities.

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