What is Healthcare Science?
Healthcare Scientists work mainly in the NHS to help find out exactly what’s wrong with patients, recommend what needs to be done to help them and, in many cases, treat them too. They also work to develop and test new, sophisticated technology and techniques to provide safer and more effective ways to diagnose and manage medical problems and so improve patient care. Healthcare Scientists represent only around 5% of the total workforce in the NHS in Scotland, but it has been estimated that almost 80% of patient diagnoses can be attributed to their work. As science and technology rapidly advances their work is constantly evolving and they are at the forefront of innovation to provide safer and more effective ways to care for patients.
Healthcare scientists work in one of three different strands:
- Life sciences which is mainly laboratory based, for example, investigating diseases through blood and tissue analysis, determining genetic make ups and researching new scientific treatments for cancer and other diseases.
- Physiological sciences which is predominantly working directly with patients, for example, carrying out electrocardiograms (ECGs) to check how the heart is working, undertaking diagnostic tests to assess lung function, measuring eye function, assessing hearing and balance function and helping patients with sleep problems.
- Physical sciences and biomedical engineering, for example, rehabilitation engineering (as here at the SMART Centre), designing instruments and equipment to monitor patients’ progress, maintaining and servicing machinery such as dialysis machines, and making sure that equipment used in radiotherapy delivers the correct dosages.
Healthcare Science at the SMART Centre
There are two groups of Healthcare Scientists at the SMART Centre. The Clinical Scientists (Bioengineers) conduct assessments, prescribe and design bespoke medical devices for the Electronic Assistive Technology (EAT) Service, the Special Needs Design Service and the Wheelchair and Seating Service. They also provided scientific support, including risk assessment, for other SMART Services, such as the Gait Lab. The Healthcare Technologists (Technicians) assemble, manufacture and repair equipment for all the SMART Services that provide medical devices, including Prosthetics and Orthotics.
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of a clinical bioengineering service in Edinburgh. At the start of last year’s Healthcare Science Week, several pages were added to the SMART website giving an historical overview of the past half century. It also has a list of historic and recent publications and conference presentations. Staff gathered to watch a slide show and share stories over lunchtime on Friday 3rd May, the day before the official anniversary. Examples of some of the slides are shown below. An article about bioengineering in Edinburgh by Michael Dolan and David Gow was published in the June edition of the Institute of Physics and Engineering’s journal, SCOPE and featured on the front cover (see above).
In May 2013, David Gow was a finalist at the European Inventor Awards in the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises category for his work on cutting-edge upper limb prosthetics technology. Find out more about this at the awards website and also read the feature article on his work.
Graham Henderson, Michael Dolan and Colin Geggie were finalists in the BioQuarter Innovation Competition 2013 organised by Edinburgh BioQuarter for their novel prototype control device for powered wheelchairs that uses imaging technology to detect head tilt. This work was presented at the Recent Advances in Assistive Technology and Engineering (RAATE) Conference at Warwick on 25 November 2013. A copy of the presentation is available in PDF format.
On the 26th June 2013, the Scottish Health Secretary, Alex Neil, visited the SMART Centre to mark the launch of a new national service for military amputees. The service will provide veterans with advanced, state of the art prosthetics. It will be delivered by the SMART Centre and WestMARC in Glasgow. Read more about this in the BBC news and Scotsman reports.
For the third year, the SMART Centre linked up with Engineers Ireland and the Irish Posture and Mobility Network for their annual Transnational Day of Shared Learning on Wednesday 29th January 2014. The event was held in Dublin with around 80 participants. Five of the 15 presentations were given from Edinburgh.
If you wish to discover more about Healthcare Science and Healthcare Scientists, then check out the following websites and documents.
NHS Careers has a whole section of its website devoted to Healthcare Science. They also have an excellent leaflet on ‘Careers in Healthcare Science’ that includes a case study on a clinical engineering trainee on page 15.
Many Healthcare Scientists (including the SMART Centre’s Bioengineers) are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). The HCPC have a register of professionals that meet their standards for training, professional skills and behaviour that can be checked by members of the public. They also regulate prosthetists, orthotists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and many other professions.
In Scotland, the training and education of healthcare scientists is supported by NHS Education Scotland who aim to ensure a sustainable, fit-for-purpose workforce supply for NHS. Why not check out the Healthcare science section of their website?
The Institute of Physic and Engineering in Medicine’s ‘Spotlight on Electronic Technology for Independent Living’ provides at an excellent overview of current technology in this area and also provides insights into future provision.
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Written & compiled by Dr Michael J Dolan, SMART Centre, NHS Lothian, Edinburgh.
First published 14th March 2014. Last updated 16th March 2014. Version 1.1.