Fetal Echocardiography Web Site Aims To Improve Detection Of Congenital Heart Disease

November 05, 1997

Each year, 32,000 infants are born with heart defects in the United States alone. Fetal sonograms are used by obstetricians to detect most forms of congenital heart disease. However, a sonogram's effectiveness is only as good as the experience of the technician performing the exam. Indeed, many heart abnormalities go undetected due to lack of experience on the part of the examiner. In an effort to better teach physicians how to read and analyze echocardiographic data, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have developed the Fetal Echocardiography Homepage and the Fetal Echo Expert System.

"The Homepage and Expert System are part of a multi-disciplinary project drawing on the combined expertise of biophysicists, cardiologists, and medical informatics specialists," says Krzysztof P. Wroblewski, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry and biophysics in Penn's School of Medicine. "The primary goal is to improve detectability of congenital heart disease."

On November 5, Wroblewski will present information about the Fetal Echocardiography Homepage at the 1997 Webnet World Conference--a joint meeting between the Web Society and the Association for the Advancement of Computing Education held in Toronto, Canada. Wroblewski's extended abstract has been honored with the "Best Paper Award," by the meeting's organizers.

The Homepage contains a library of typical views of normal and abnormal fetal hearts, as well as links to other fetal and neonatal cardiological and ultrasound-imaging sites. The Expert System is a computer program designed to help physicians, medical students, and technicians improve their skills at reading and analyzing fetal sonograms. It works like a step-by-step tutorial--carefully walking users through an ultrasound study of a fetal heart. The program asks users questions necessary to make a diagnosis--week of gestation and fetal size, for example--and, for comparison, displays similar cases from its library, on request.

This approach is meant to pinpoint a potential problem and help the examiner gain much-needed experience viewing different types of congenital conditions. At the moment, only a beta version of the program, which has been road-tested in over 50 physicians' offices so far, is available. Since the webpage went online in August of 1996, it has been accessed close to 7,000 times by users all over the world.

CHOP researchers Zhi Yun Tian and Jack Rychik, as well as Piotr M. Wroblewski, a junior in Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Science (and incidentally, the son of Krzysztof Wroblewski) collaborated on the study. Editor's Note: Dr. Wroblewski can be reached at 215-898-6396 until October 30, after which time he will be at the Webnet Conference in Toronto. To find out how to reach him at the meeting call 215-662-2560. Visit the Fetal Echocardiography Homepage at: http://www.med.upenn.edu/fetus/echo.html.

The University of Pennsylvania Medical Center's sponsored research ranks fifth in the United States, based on grant support from the National Institutes of Health, the primary funder of biomedical research in the nation. In federal fiscal year 1996, the medical center received $149 million. In addition, for the second consecutive year, the institution posted the highest growth rate in research activity--9.1 percent--of the top-ten U.S. academic medical centers during the same period. News releases from the medical center are available to reporters by direct E-mail, fax, or U.S. mail, upon request. They are also posted to the center's webpage (http://www.med.upenn.edu) and EurekAlert! (http://www.eurekalert.org), a resource sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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