It started with a question posed by Dr. Fadi Khraim, a faculty member in the School of Nursing at Memorial University.
Does a cardiography machine have potential beyond its typical use as a device to monitor patients with high blood pressure?
With his background and strong interest in cardiovascular nursing, Dr. Khraim wondered if the machine could help improve quality of life for individuals with heart failure.
Heart failure happens when the heart is unable to pump efficiently to maintain proper blood flow throughout the body. It's a common and potentially deadly condition.
Dr. Khraim began investigations, and followed up with nurse practitioners in the congestive heart failure clinic at Eastern Health.
Together, they formed a research team.
The research project, Cardiac Hemodynamics Measures of Persons with Heart Failure Using Non-Invasive Impedance Cardiography, aims to describe heart function fluctuations among outpatients in the congestive heart failure clinic.
Following measurement of a patient's blood pressure, skin electrodes track blood volume changes during the cardiac cycle. These changes in blood volume represent heart function fluctuations.
It's work that has Dr. Khraim and his research team, Eastern Health nurse practitioners Rodolfo Pike, Jennifer Williams and Angela Bartlett (who's on maternity leave), and third-year School of Nursing student Victoria Morgan, feeling pretty excited.
Why? Not only is the project unique in the country (it's the first time a cardiography machine has been used to study heart function among people with heart failure); it's addressing an important research gap.
"Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest rate of heart disease in the country, and yet there is need for more research that sheds light on heart function among people with heart failure," said Dr. Khraim "That's really what why we wanted to do this study. "
Information gathered has enormous potential to benefit individuals in this province and across the country, he pointed out.
Over 40 patients have already signed up for the study and more recruits are welcome. They'll be followed for three visits over a two to three month period.
The main advantage of collecting data on patients using this particular method is that it's non-invasive, less risky for patients who are already vulnerable, and less expensive than other kinds of more invasive procedures.
"Most patients are really interested in this project," said nurse practitioner Rodolfo Pike. "They want to learn more about heart failure so they can get better treatment. And even if there might not be a personal benefit, they are glad to know that the research will benefit others."
Nurse practitioner Jennifer Williams points out that the clinic focuses on optimizing a client's quality of life and keeping them out of hospital. The aim of the research project is to monitor progress as medications are adjusted up or down, and clients incorporate diet and exercise changes into their routines.
Third year SON student Victoria Morgan applied to be part of the research team, and is grateful for the learning experience.
"It's helpful because I am applying the knowledge that I'm learning in medical and nursing research courses and that will give me a better understanding of the mechanics of heart failure," she said. "It really makes a difference when you see how patients are dealing with their conditions."
The team expects to conclude their study later this spring.
"At this point we are exploring," said Dr. Khraim. "I believe this technology may have the potential to help clinicians adjust the treatment of patients with heart failure in order to optimize their heart function and ultimately improve their quality of life."