Hands-on cardiac education pays dividends for patients and others, says Abiomed

Patient education and networking can empower cardiac arrest survivors, but the heart pump technology developer has found it also inspires and engages medical technologists and operators.

t a Heart Recovery Advocate Day held on February 3 at Abiomed's Danvers, Massachusetts, headquarters, patients shared their stories of heart recovery, toured the facility, participated in lab demonstrations and had the opportunity to meet the operators who made their left ventricular assist devices, right ventricular assist devices and lung-assist devices.

Connecting patients with each other, and with technologists

Beyond pictures, videos and surgical explanations, many cardiology intervention patients want to know more about the technology that enabled their heart recovery. 

That is clear from the 24 survivors that experienced planned or unplanned percutaneous coronary interventions and cardiogenic shock events and who attended the largest annual patient summit Abiomed has held in 12 years. 

Relationships between the patients may begin when those recently treated are connected with Abiomed's patient advocates that are years out from their cardiac interventions, Shannon Kjellsen, Abiomed's patient advocacy manager, told Healthcare IT News at the event. 

Talking with a mentor gives them hope "that they can, in fact, return to a normal quality of life," she said.

With more than 325 engaged advocates, Kjellsen noted, she said she has seen the bond between patients who recover from heart failure and cardiac arrests – like myocardial infarction requiring emergent coronary intervention or progressive cardiogenic shock situations – grow strong.

"We've had patients travel to each other's homes – get on a plane and go meet each other – because they felt such a strong connection."

Kjellsen also said that based on feedback, introducing the patients to the operators that made their heart- and lung-support devices is a highlight for everyone involved in the patient summit. "It's a mutually beneficial relationship because you see the patients crying, you see the operators who assemble the pump crying. It brings to life what you do."

Improving survivor experiences with hands-on education

When a heart attack or heart failure strikes, patients can wake up several days later not knowing which cardiology interventions were taken to recover their heart's function.

"They go through this experience, and some of them, they are surrounded by medical teams that are explaining all the different things that went on, so they kind of just blur it together," said Kjellsen.

"To come and hear it in laymen's terms, the way our teams break it down for them, it's fun for them. And to be part of that education so that they can explain it better to their friends and family and make it something that will eventually help them – they love it."

They also really enjoy the "Impella 101" talk, she said.

"They love to be informed. That gives them the strength to feel confident when they are telling their story."

Increasing survival rates and lowering rehospitalizations

Cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Sanjeev Aggarwal, who joined Abiomed as vice president of surgical therapies last June, presented Impella 101 at this year's summit.

After briefly going through the conditions that affect the heart's function and cause cardiac events, like cardiomyopathy, he reviewed stent placement procedures, open heart surgery and the use of pumps to restore blood flow to the heart. 

He showed a picture of a patient on an exercise bike 12 hours after open heart surgery and said patients who had the assistance of an Impella device may get discharged the second day after surgery. 

"Both for the cardiology side and surgical side, this technology is truly changing just how we practice medicine," he said.

Aggarwal used an analogy of an automobile to explain the benefits of heart pumps. "If your car breaks down, it would be extraordinarily difficult to try and repair the engine and drive the car at the same time."

The LVADs, he noted, have two purposes – they provide support for surgical corrections and allow the heart time to rest and recover after surgery. 

They allow medical teams to effectively "shut the engine off" by doing what the heart is supposed to do, he said, adding that decompressing the heart muscle makes high-risk cardiac intervention procedures much safer, and can give the heart time to recover.

The reality is that a greater number of people have recovered from cardiac arrest, said Aggarwal. 

"You guys are proof positive of that," he said.

"Based on studies, particularly with stent procedures, we have fewer deaths, fewer strokes and fewer heart attacks or repeat procedures."

Patients simulate medical team experiences 

In the afternoon, patients attending Abiomed's summit headed into the simulation lab in small groups to see the pumps and software for themselves. 

Some had the opportunity to drive a heart pump up through the femoral artery into the heart of a dummy, and watch it on screen as former nurse and clinical trainer Kate Wheeler went through the hemodynamics and data streaming from the sensors in the heart pump.

Bill Schrimpl of Chicago described the pump simulation as "phenomenal."

"These people here are way too humble. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them," he said.

The "doctor" in the next group of patient summit attendees, largely composed of cardiogenic shock survivors, asked about the insertion speed during the simulation as he watched it travel into the dummy's left ventricle. 

Wheeler said that a surgeon would move more quickly. 

"That's right because seconds count," said the attendee.

Wheeler said as a former nurse, she could appreciate the real-time mortality risk provided by the pump software. She also explained during the post-surgical bedside simulation that remote monitoring allows cardiologists and clinicians to monitor patients and supports decision-making 24/7 on any device. 

The longest pump run so far was 164 days, she said. 

Being able to check the pump from anywhere has also improved communication with families. Schrimpl's wife expressed her admiration for that level of visibility into patient conditions.

Impella Connect, which also provides direct access to Abiomed's 24/7 call center functions much like a telehealth platform, with video calling and other features, according to Dawn Bardot, senior director of global services, who explained how it works on HIMSS TV´s Digital Checkup.

Bardot said that the platform supports doctors and nurses, and enhances collaboration with Abiomed's field support team. 

Impella devices have supported more than 250,000 patients worldwide, according to Abiomed, which recently became part of Johnson & Jhonson Medtech.

According to J&J, the purchase will help advance the standard of care in heart failure and recovery worldwide.

"Together, we have the incredible opportunity to bring lifesaving innovations to more patients around the world," Ashley McEvoy, executive vice president and worldwide chairman of MedTech, said in the acquisition's announcement.