HMC Cardiac Ultrasound Department Earns Prestigious Accreditation

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Medical Center’s Cardiac Ultrasound Department has a significant feather to put in its cap. The department recently achieved accreditation of its echocardiography lab from the Intersocietal Commission for the Accreditation of Echocardiography Laboratories.

The accreditation was a real milestone for the department and recognition of its high standards and its dedicated staff. The national organization that grants accreditation provides a rigorous peer review process that recognizes quality echocardiographic diagnostic evaluations.

The fact that the accreditation for adult transthoracic echocardiography was gained on the first try was also quite an achievement, said Patti McKissick, manager of Cardiology and Neurology.

“The process took more than two years from start to finish,” McKissick said. “The whole department was under a microscope; it was a huge undertaking. But we did great. We submitted once and passed. That was highly unusual.”

To be accredited, every aspect of the lab’s work must meet stringent criteria. “We had to build a system of uniform reporting,” McKissick said. “Getting that up and running was one of the biggest challenges.”

Echocardiography is a test that uses sound waves to show pictures of the heart. It measures the heart’s size and shape, shows how well chambers and valves are working, and identifies areas of heart muscle that aren’t contracting normally due to poor blood flow. The ‘echo,’ as it is commonly called, can detect possible blood clots inside the heart, fluid buildup in the sac around the heart, and problems with the aorta, the main artery that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body.

The operation of an echocardiography lab is a team effort involving technicians and physicians, and accreditation requires that everything is standardized and designed to result in the most accurate measurements.

McKissick credits the staff for its work, but also points to the dedication of Dorothy St. Germain, technical director of the department, and Dr. Alan Munro, laboratory medical director, for the success.

“It was a group effort, but these two individuals really took on a lot of the hours that were needed to get this accreditation,” McKissick said.

St. Germain noted that the accreditation process required a tremendous effort, which had to be accomplished in the midst of all the other work going on in the department. “We had to make sure that we had all the lab policies, all the procedures, all the reporting done to the highest standards. We have always had high standards, but different staff and physicians had their own style. We had to get everyone on the same page,” she said. “It’s a struggle to change, but everyone involved was great.”

St. Germain praised Munro for his leadership. “He has always set high standards for himself and the department, “ she said. “He was enthusiastic and guided us through the changes. We have always been a good lab here; now we have the acknowledgment of it.”

Getting accredited gives the department one more stamp of approval. “It says we have been looked at and we have been held to a high level of standards,” St. Germain said.

It also means that the echocardiography lab, which is accredited for three years, is open to inspection at any time. A representative from the Intersocietal Commission for the Accreditation of Echocardiography Laboratories may randomly drop in to see that the lab is following the plan it has set for itself.

Accreditation is purely voluntary. But the medical staff and the laboratory staff do understand that a national organization has recognized the work of the Holyoke Medical Center lab as among the best.

For further information on the Cardiac Ultrasound Department at Holyoke Medical Center, call (413) 534-2538.