SavingHearts: Innovative Methods and Techniques in Cardiovascular Disease Treatment

Chronic diseases represent a major burden on both population health as well as the costs of healthcare systems. Europe carries the highest burden of chronic diseases which cause 86% of all deaths. Of these, cardio-vascular diseases amount for around half of all deaths in the WHO European region and impose a cost of more than € 192 billion a year on the European economy.

In an ageing population, the increasing prevalence of multiple chronic diseases (co-morbidity) presents a particular challenge. There are complex causal relationships between chronic diseases, which are often likely to occur together and an unhealthy lifestyle can be the common cause of more than one disease in one patient. More than half of all older people have at least three chronic conditions, and a significant proportion has five or more. These are often unrecognized and untreated. The presence of co-morbidity often indicates greater severity and poorer prognosis of chronic disease. The clinical management of patients with co-morbidity is much more complex and time-consuming than that of those with single diseases.

Classical surgical treatment represents a high risk procedure especially for patients with co-morbidities, challenging the cardiovascular system and the rest of the peripheral organs. Therefore, several treatment alternatives using endovascular therapy alone or in combination with open surgery have been developed to repair these complex thoracic-abdominal aneurysms (TAAs). The general trend is toward a less invasive approach, which improves patient outcomes, recovery time and quality of life.

Objectives Addressed

Knowledge on treatement (parameters), these kinds of non-invasive procedures and the preceding processes is available only to highly specialized professionals. The environments where such procedures (e.g. sterile operation blocks) are applied are not suitable for ‘live’ teaching activities for students and/or other professionals.

Thus the SavingHearts project aims to:

  • Employ the strategic use of ICT technologies in teaching/training activities by using a telemedicine approach to create an innovative best practice environment in the form of an ICT platform where students and other practitioners can experience non-invasive surgery procedures. The procedures shown will be accompanied by specialist commentary.
  • Besides offering a modern way of delivering specialist education the program will improve competences of students and specialists participating in the program, as the remote part of the program will be accompanied by a two week ‘traineeship’ in a working hospital, where the course participants will get to real life working experience accompanying the whole diagnostic process.
  • The ICT platform will be also populated with relevant training materials, specialising on treatment of TAAs in co-morbidity cases and pediatric cases, which will be delivered as an Open Educational Resources (OER).
  • SavingHearts includes international student and staff mobility as a means to test the outputs produced by the project, thus providing opportunities for learning mobility. The participation of both a hospital, a research center and HEIs in the project will strengthen the international cooperation between these stakeholders.

Needs Addressed

By achieving the objectives above the SavingHearts project addresses the following needs:

  • towards labor market: a close collaboration between HEIs and the hospital (i.e. the labor market)) will results in students who are more attuned and educated towards the requirements of the working environment and who already have a basic knowledge in non-invasive cardiologic procedures.
  • on organizational level: (a) modernization of the content and the provision medium for cardiology related courses (b) high quality OERs, (b) innovative concepts for telemedicine in education with regard to cardiac surgery, (c) integration of blended learning approaches into teaching activities, (d) collaborative learning in virtual communities using ICT-based tools.
  • on an individual level: (a) ability to insert oneself in the diagostic process in practice, (b) basic competences in the diagnostic process and the treatments to be delivered , (c) use of telemedicine tools and ICT in the learning process.

Striving to anchor the results achieved by the project in the medium and long term in the participating organizations, the consortium proposed activities/objectives which are in line with organizational and departmental development strategies. The project topic is one where the participating institutions have been involved in research activities and projects.

As such a specialist topic was chosen which is of high relevance to the labor market, i.e. hospitals and in general to the health care system. The number of non-invasive surgical procedures is expected to rise dramatically during the next years, because of (a) their lower risk on the patient and (b) the lower costs imposed on the health care system and the hospitals. As such the consortium considers it to be important to disseminate knowledge of such procedures to as many training/teaching institutions and hospitals as possible.

In order to achieve this in a most efficient and effective manner the SavingHearts project proposes the following innovations:

  •  Creation of a concept for HEIs and hospitals on how to use a e-platform with telemedicine components to transfer knowledge in non-invasive cardiac surgery from experts to specialists on different proficiency level.
  • Development, implementation and testing of a new concept supported by tools (e-platform, blended learning approach, materials and practical ‘apprenticeships’) facilitating the modernization and individualization of the teaching/training process.
  • Develop, test and implement a module which enhances the level of key competences for students of medicine, who are interested in specializing in cardiology, by extending their knowledge and abilities with regard to the diagnostic process for TAAs and the surgical non-invasive interventions to treat these cases. Also competences are delivered by combining learning with a practical approach.
  • Strategic use of ICT and open learning resources in order to create a more user-centered learning environment. The solution provided by the SavingHearts project can be transferred to other medical disciplines if the contents are adapted to that specialty.
  • First step of a network of universities and hospitals feeding into a common e-infrastructure with open educational resources.