Cardiovascular technologists and technicians assist doctors in diagnosing and treating heart (cardiac) and blood vessel (peripheral vascular) diseases. Three out of four cardiovascular technologists work in hospitals.
Three main areas of specialty practice exist in cardiovascular technology: invasive cardiology, non-invasive cardiology (or echocardiography), and non-invasive peripheral vascular technology.
In invasive cardiology, cardiology technologists help doctors with cardiac catheterization procedures to diagnose heart blockages. The technologist prepares the patient's body, monitors blood pressure and heart rate during the procedure, and notifies the doctor if anything is amiss.
The technologist also assists in the procedure, which involves threading a small tube (or catheter) through a patient’s artery to her heart. Part of the procedure may involve balloon angioplasty, which can be used to treat blockages of blood vessels or heart valves without the need for heart surgery. In these cases, the technologist assists the physician to insert the catheter with a balloon on the end.
Cardiology technologists may also assist in open-heart surgery, and with the insertion of pacemakers and stents in patient hearts.
Technologists who specialize in non-invasive cardiology or echocardiography typically run tests such as Doppler ultrasound, which transmits high-frequency sound waves into areas of the patient’s body and then processes reflected echoes of the sound waves to form an image. Technologists view the ultrasound image on a screen and may record the image on videotape or photograph it for interpretation and diagnosis by a physician. During the scan of the body, the technologists select which images to include in a report to the physician. They also explain the procedures to the patient, and record any additional medical history told to them by the patient.
Cardiovascular technologists who specialize in getting electrocardiograms (EKGs) and sonograms of the heart, and in performing stress tests are known as electrocardiograph (or EKG) technicians. They prepare the patient for the EKG, run the EKG monitor, and print out results for the doctor.
Lastly, noninvasive vascular technologists or cardiac sonographers assist physicians in the diagnosis of disorders affecting circulation. After checking a patient's heart rate and evaluating his blood flow, the vascular technologist will use ultrasound instruments to record vascular information, which is especially needed before surgery.