Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States contributing to 1 in every 4 deaths. In addition, some forms of cardiovascular disease affect nearly half of the U.S. population. Despite initiatives like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Million Hearts 2022 campaign to reduce the number of heart attacks by the year 2022, we still have a long ways to go.
It raises the question: Beyond investing more money in education and awareness programs, is there something that healthcare providers can do to help solve the problem? The answer is yes. And, one way to accomplish this is to enhance patient care through the effective use of technology.
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Technology innovations that improve patient care
The wave of technology innovations that have entered the market can be perplexing for physicians. Unfortunately, technology adoption in medicine often happens slowly. In fact, according to a Stanford Medicine poll, close to half of all physicians still face challenges with electronic health records (EHR) adoption and integration.
Despite these difficulties, most doctors understand that the adoption of new technology is crucial to improving health outcomes and the overall healthcare journey. In my field of cardiology, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can make a big impact on the ability to evaluate heart conditions.
For example, a new diagnostic tool is a non-invasive cardiac test that leverages deep learning (a form of AI). This test is combined with the efforts of highly trained human analysts to create a personalized 3D model of the arteries that bring blood to the heart. It applies advanced algorithms to solve millions of complex equations to assess the impact of blockages in these arteries on blood flow to the heart.
This non-invasive test enables better care for heart disease by offering the clearest picture of the adequacy of a patient’s blood supply to their heart without having an invasive assessment. This represents a paradigm shift in patient care by improving the overall experience for patients, improving resource utilization for hospitals and delivering cost savings for healthcare systems.
Technology adoption aside, patients also face a unique set of challenges when addressing heart health issues. As a physician, I’ve taken care of many individuals who aren’t as proactive with their healthcare as they should be. This observation was confirmed by a recent consumer survey on heart health which found the following:
- 42 percent of Americans know they have a family history of heart disease
- Another 77 percent admitting to worrying about their heart health
- BUT, most (67 percent) have never sought diagnosis or treatment.
And these are just snapshots of a wide-ranging list of reasons as to why people may not voice their concerns. Despite these fears, physicians can assist, particularly, by using technology that can better engage patients in a two-way dialogue to establish customized care plans.
Technology options to bridge the patient-physician communication gap
There are now many technology options to improve two-way communication between patients, their physicians and other members of the care team.
Here are three that lead the pack.
1. Internal Collaboration: Improving Treatment Pathways
Effective communication across care teams enables better decision-making and improved patient outcomes. These open communication tools allow clinicians to share secure patient information with fellow physicians or with the wider care teams. Data sharing and access to information on patients allow users to focus on updates that matter. An extra layer of customization also ensures that physicians can focus on getting alerts for cases they care about most.
Technologies that are not only seamless but portable also allow 24/7 access to patients wherever physicians are and allow them to send information to relevant physicians at any time.
Collaboration tools allow for a new, visual way to explain treatment decisions to patients and their families. Allowing them to personalize their care delivery and make it easier for patients to digest.
2. Telehealth: Connecting with Patients Beyond the Hospital
Telemedicine options were established to help patients better adhere to their care plans while avoiding the need for consistent hospital visits. In a value-based care world, it checks the triple aim of lower cost, improved quality, and better outcomes. Telehealth is a great option for patients who live in rural areas, the elderly or those who simply have a busy schedule.
With a heart health care plan, it’s important to check in regularly with patients. For example, if a health care provider has a patient whose heart condition is progressing, the provider may put them on a specific diet, fitness and medication routine that needs to be regularly monitored. Telehealth options allow doctors to virtually connect.
It can help providers understand whether patients are following the recommended routine and medication plan. It can also be a useful way to help them work through any challenges that may arise, such as access to prescription refills. These virtual options allow physicians and patients to collaborate regularly, without disturbing the patient’s schedule or the doctor’s workflow.
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3. Remote Monitoring: Tracking Day-to-Day Patient Activity
Although telehealth serves as a good check-in for physicians to track their patient’s progress – it is not a foolproof option. This is where remote monitoring can help. With smartphones, smartwatches and other gadgets, there are many options that capture and transmit insightful information, without inconveniencing the patient.
For heart conditions, there are ECG at-home monitoring tools that can detect atrial fibrillation. And blood pressure monitors that can track blood pressure responses to medications or other strategies. Lastly, smartphones and smartwatches can serve as a way to track fitness and diet.
We should expect to see many more consumers engage with these technologies as a way to store, track and share their health information securely with physicians.
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The bottom line
The U.S. is facing a longstanding challenge with heart disease, despite the progress seen over much of the past century with declining death rates. But progress has stalled and there is a critical need to find ways to move forward again.
New technologies have improved clinical processes, such as diagnostics combined with patient engagement technologies. These technologies make two-way communication easier and more effective. The communication will be important in reinvigorating the efforts to further reduce the impact of heart disease and other chronic illnesses on our population. The future is bright. I am excited to see even more progress reducing the incidence of heart disease in the coming years.
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Campbell Rogers, M.D., F.A.C.C.
Dr. Rogers received his A.B. from Harvard College and his M.D. from Harvard Medical School. He brings a wealth of experience to HeartFlow Inc.., where he serves as the Chief Medical Officer. Before joining HeartFlow, Dr. Rogers was the Chief Scientific Officer and Global Head of Research and Development at Cordis Corporation, at Johnson & Johnson, where he was responsible for leading investments and research in cardiovascular devices. Before Cordis, he was Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard-M.I.T. Division of Health Sciences and Technology. And Director of the Cardiac Catheterization and Experimental Cardiovascular Interventional Laboratories at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He served as Principal Investigator for numerous interventional cardiology device, diagnostic, and pharmacology trials. Dr. Rogers is the author of numerous journal articles, chapters, and books in the area of coronary artery and other cardiovascular diseases. In addition, he was the recipient of research grant awards from the NIH and AHA.