Cardiovascular technologists and technicians and vascular technologists use imaging technology to help physicians diagnose cardiac (heart) and peripheral vascular (blood vessel) ailments in patients. They also help physicians treat problems with cardiac and vascular systems, such as blood clots.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians and vascular technologists typically do the following:
Technologists and technicians do or help do tests that can be either invasive or noninvasive. An invasive procedure requires inserting probes or other instruments into a patient’s body, and a noninvasive procedure does not.
Cardiology technologists monitor patients’ heart rates and help diagnose and treat problems with patients’ hearts. The procedures can be invasive (such as inserting catheters) or noninvasive (such as using ultrasound equipment to take images of the heart).
Cardiac catheterization involves helping a physician thread a catheter through a patient’s artery to the heart. The procedure determines whether a blockage exists in the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle or helps to diagnose other problems. Some of these procedures may involve balloon angioplasty, which can be used to treat blockages of blood vessels or heart valves without the need for heart surgery.
Technologists prepare patients for these procedures by shaving and cleansing the area where the catheter will be inserted and administering topical anesthesia. During the procedure, they monitor the patient’s blood pressure and heart rate. Some cardiology technologists also prepare and monitor patients during open-heart surgery and during the insertion of pacemakers and stents that open blockages in arteries to the heart and other major blood vessels.
An EKG, or electrocardiogram, monitors the heart's performance through electrodes attached to a patient’s chest, arms, and legs while the patient is lying on a table. To test a physically active patient, the cardiac technologist uses a Holter monitor or stress test. The technologist puts electrodes on the patient’s chest and attaches a portable EKG monitor to the patient’s belt. The Holter monitor records normal activity for 24 or more hours, and the technologist then removes the tape from the monitor, places the monitor in a scanner, checks its quality, and prints the image for later analysis by a physician. For a stress test, the patient walks on a treadmill and the technologist gradually increases the speed to observe the effect of increased exertion.
Vascular technologists (Vascular sonographers) help physicians diagnose disorders affecting blood flow. Vascular technologists listen to the blood flow in the arteries and veins to check for abnormalities. They do noninvasive procedures using ultrasound instruments to record information, such as blood flow in veins, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation. Many of these tests are done during or immediately after surgery.
Cardiac sonographers (Echocardiographers) use ultrasound to examine the heart’s chambers, valves, and vessels. They use ultrasound instruments to create images called echocardiograms. The echocardiogram may be done while the patient is either resting or physically active.
Cardiovascular technicians work closely with cardiovascular technologists. Technicians who specialize in electrocardiogram (EKG) testing are known as cardiographic or electrocardiogram (EKG) technicians.
Technologists and technicians often work closely with diagnostic medical sonographers. For more information, see the profile on diagnostic medical sonographers.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition