By Charley Taylor
There are times when medical innovations are slow to take root.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, all attention was focused on getting the virus in check and caring for those afflicted, and out of fear, lack of medical staff capacity, and quarantine protocols, people ignored other aspects of their health. As a result, there was then an urgency to figure out ways to care for patients in acute, non-COVID related instances, like heart attacks, strokes, and everyday maintenance of chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer care. The need to treat patients while decreasing their and the medical staff’s exposure to the virus, rejuvenated interest in advancing solutions like telemedicine and had physicians thinking differently about the tools at hand - pushing technologies that were often used as second or third options to the forefront.
The key to caring for patients outside of COVID-19 infections was to help physicians determine when a hospital visit was necessary. If a visit or procedure was necessary, getting patients in and out as quickly as possible while providing their physicians with the most accurate information for a treatment path was a primary concern.
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30% of all patient visits during the first six months of the pandemic were provided via telemedicine. That’s a jaw-dropping statistic for a healthcare tool that was hardly used pre-pandemic. Telehealth is helping to close gaps in access to care for many populations and should remain a mainstay of modern healthcare, and it’s refreshing to see that policymakers are working to secure expanded coverage for telehealth after the pandemic. Treating patients from afar does present challenges and in some scenarios is simply impossible; yet telehealth has proliferated, from a simple virtual check-up to complex robotic surgery performed through remote access.
While this is all incredibly exciting, it is not without its own hurdles. Alignment between clinical and administrative leaders is needed to advance beyond the status quo; doing so will help to save countless lives and lift the burdens on healthcare providers while helping to reduce enormous costs. Trust in medical professionals to handle data responsibly will also remain a key issue.
During COVID-19, heart disease related deaths increased to nearly 700,000 cases in the U.S. in 2020, primarily due to the decrease in people not seeking medical care. Medical professionals struggled to find efficient and accurate ways for stress testing. Stress tests are the most commonly used heart test to diagnose coronary artery disease (CAD), but they have an alarmingly low rate of accuracy. Based on the uncertain findings of a stress test, research shows 20 to 30% of patients with CAD are falsely reassured that they do not have significant disease, and 55% end up having invasive procedures, which in hindsight are unnecessary. Stress testing is outdated and its performance is simply unacceptable for diagnosing the world’s number one killer.