As COVID-19 case levels plateau in some regions, 16 North American cardiovascular societies have released a framework for reintroducing cardiovascular services disrupted by the pandemic.
The consensus document outlines a phased approach to restarting invasive cardiovascular (CV) procedures and diagnostic tests that aims to reduce patient and health care provider exposure to the coronavirus and still provide essential care. It also emphasizes some of the ethical considerations in patient selection and the need for a collaborative approach.
“The key message in our document is we need a new unprecedented collaboration with public health officials so that we can carefully monitor the situation and we’re aware of what’s happening with the penetrance of the pandemic in the community, but they’re aware of the morbidity and mortality that’s occurring on our ever-growing waiting list,” lead author David A. Wood, MD, told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology.
The recommendations were jointly published May 4 in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology , the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, and The Annals of Thoracic Surgery, and are endorsed by, among others, the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology (ACC), and Canadian Cardiovascular Society.
The guidance comes as hospitals are facing revenue shortfalls because of canceled elective procedures and resource-intensive COVID-19 cases, prompting some healthcare systems to furlough, lay off, or even fire staff.
“It’s obvious that volumes are down between 40% and 60%,” said Wood, director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at Vancouver General Hospital and professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, Canada. “Part of that is that some areas have restricted case volumes totally appropriately and it’s partly because patients are very afraid of coming to the hospital and, unfortunately, are having bad events at home. And some are dying.”
The new report features a detailed table outlining three different response levels: reintroduction of some services (level 2); reintroduction of most services (level 1); and regular services (level 0). It covers a range of services from transthoracic echocardiography and exercise testing with imaging to care for acute coronary syndrome and ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction.
“We’ve learned that we can very quickly turn off the tap and go to doing only 10% of our normal volumes, whether that’s surgery, cath lab, EP, diagnostic tests,” Wood said. “It’s much more difficult to thoughtfully turn the tap part way back on or restart the engine … you don’t just go from 0 to 100 [mph]. You go from 0 to 30 to 60 then maybe to 80 [mph].”
The document also includes eight guiding principles such as:
- The expectation that response levels will be different between regions, and even within a given region.
- A “transparent collaborative plan” for COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) must be in place before restarting cases.
- A less invasive test or alternate imaging modality should be considered, if both tests have similar efficacy.
- In general, a minimally invasive procedure with a shorter length of stay is preferable, if both strategies have similar efficacy and safety.