Researcher helps ERs cope with syncope

Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Dr. Venk, wearing a lab coat, stands in front of a vital signs monitor, with bright lights in the background

“I  have to work on the front lines in order to understand what is going on.”

— Dr. Venkatesh Thiruganasambandamoorthy   

By Meghan Heer and Jasmine Bhatti
Special Guest Writers

When asked who inspires him, Dr. Venkatesh Thiruganasambandamoorthy — better known to patients and colleagues as “Dr. Venk” — answers, quickly yet thoughtfully: Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi took the time to understand the political and social climate in India through first-hand experiences, which made him effective leader in fighting for social justice, Dr. Venk says:

“Gandhi did his ground-work properly,” 

The Mahatma’s example explains why Dr. Venk chooses to divide his time between working as an emergency physician at the Ottawa Hospital, and conducting research at uOttawa and OHRI.

“I have to work on the front lines in order to understand what is going on,” says Dr. Venk, a clinical researcher and associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and the School of Epidemiology and Public Health.

His approach has clearly yielded results. 

This month, the CIHR Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health and the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians presented Dr. Venk with the Mid-Career Lecturer Award in Emergency Medicine recognizing his outstanding contribution to the advancement of emergency medicine both in Canada and internationally. 

Last year, he won the 2019 Faculty of Medicine Clinical Publication of the Year Award for his work on improving the care and management of emergency-room patients who experience syncope, commonly known as fainting.  

Dr. Venk’s ultimate goal is to ease the suffering of as many individuals as possible. He believes involvement in clinical research, where he can develop tools that impact millions of people world-wide, is the best way to expand his reach.

“Even if it’s monumentous, nothing is unachievable,” he says.

Dr. Venk became interested in syncope as a young family physician, when he found there was a lack of training and of standardized care procedures for the condition. This led him to pursue a master’s degree in epidemiology at the University of Ottawa, seeking to develop a “clinically actionable item for syncope” that was applicable in the Canadian setting.

Syncope is a temporary loss of consciousness that often results from low blood pressure or other pre-existing cardiovascular conditions that reduce blood flow to the brain. Although syncope is often harmless, it can also present as a symptom of arrhythmia, a potentially lethal medical condition.

As a result, patients can spend up to 12 hours in the emergency department for observation following syncope. On average, 1 in 20 patients experiences adverse events, including irregular heart rhythm, heart attack, unidentified bleeding or death within 30 days of their hospital visit, making it critical for physicians to accurately identify and treat patients for the underlying causes of syncope.

Dr. Venk developed the Canadian Syncope Risk Score to predict which patients will experience adverse events following syncope. Recently, his research group used the risk score in an observational study of 5,581 patients categorized as low, medium or high risk of experiencing arrhythmia within 30 days following syncope. Their findings suggest only two hours of clinical observation for low-risk patients and six hours for medium and high-risk patients before safe discharge. This practice provides adequate diagnosis of serious conditions causing syncope and quick discharge of low-risk patients to reduce wait times and free up crucial resources.

Dr. Venk also takes on various leadership roles on committees that work to establish standardized syncope care procedures and reporting systems both in Canada, and internationally.

Meghan Heer and Jasmine Bhatti are 4th year Faculty of Medicine students in the Honours Bachelor of Science Program in Translational and Molecular Medicine. They wrote this story originally for their Science Communications course as part of a series profiling researchers at the Faculty of Medicine.

The course is designed and taught by Dr. Kristin Baetz, interim assistant dean, research and special projects and professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology, to foster in students the ability to convey complex science to a lay audience – an essential skill when making presentations, applying for grants, composing abstracts for research papers and generally communicating one’s work in the biomedical sciences.

MedPoint will be publishing profiles from this series throughout 2020 .

Dr. Venk, wearing a lab coat, stands in front of a vital signs monitor, with bright lights in the background

Dr. Venkatesh Thiruganasambandamoorthy was awarded the 2019 Faculty of Medicine Clinical Publication of the Year Award. 

Dr. Venk and Ms. Yazmin Gonzalez Palacios in formal attire

Dr. Venk and his partner Yazmin Gonzalez Palacios at the 2019 Faculty of Medicine Gala


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