Although previous reports on cath lab considerations during the pandemic or restarting elective surgeries peg various actions to specific thresholds or time intervals, the language here is noticeably and intentionally broad.
Instead of stating when cardiovascular services should resume, for example, the experts say it’s appropriate to put the guidance document into place if there’s a “sustained reduction” in the rate of new COVID-19 admissions and deaths in the relevant geographic region for a “prespecified time interval.”
As for when or how frequently patients and healthcare providers should be tested for COVID-19, the document encourages “routine screening of all patients prior to any cardiovascular procedure or test.”
Overly prescriptive language in previous documents wasn’t felt to be that helpful, whereas language like “selective” cases and “some” or “most” cardiovascular procedures gives clinicians, health systems, and policy makers flexibility when moving between response levels, Wood explained.
“Different regions might be at different levels based on principles of public health as far as the penetrance of the pandemic in that community, as well as how can you actually do the physical distancing in your hospital or ambulatory clinic. Because, I tell you, that is the Achilles heel,” he said. “Our run rates are going to be determined by testing, the availability of PPE, but also how we’re going to use our existing infrastructure and maintain physical distancing.”
That may mean using telehealth for initial visits, having clinics open earlier in the morning or on weekends, or doing partial volumes for surgery or in the cath lab so patients can be staggered and recover at different times and in different areas of the hospital. “These are very granular, specific infrastructure things that we’ve never really had to consider before,” Wood observed.
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The document also had to be flexible and nimble enough to respond to a potential rebound of COVID-19 cases, which in newly released models are projected to rise sharply to 200,000 cases a day and be accompanied by some 3,000 deaths each day by June 1.
“This is my own personal opinion but I think it’s foolish to think that we are going to be able to come back to 100% of the cases we were doing before, even with testing, PPE, and all of that until we have a vaccine,” he said.
Similar to decisions made in preparation for the initial COVID-19 surge, the consensus document outlines the need for ethical considerations when turning the tap back on. This means prioritizing procedures and tests that are likely to benefit more people and to a greater degree, and ensuring that patients are treated fairly and consistently, regardless of their ethnicity, perceived social worth, or ability to pay, said coauthor and ACC President Athena Poppas, MD, Brown University School of Medicine, Providence, Rhode Island.
“It’s an ethical tenet that exists in a lot of places but it’s usually not overtly called out,” Poppas told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology. “It’s not rationing care; I think people jump to that but it’s actually the opposite of rationing care. It’s about being thoughtful about prioritizing patients.”
“There’s a variety of data that should help in the prioritization, not only how much hospital resources are utilized, that’s on one side, but there’s also the patient risk of delaying or doing a procedure, and then the societal risk,” she said.
Susheel Kodali, MD, of New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, who recently published recommendations on restructuring structural heart disease practice during the pandemic, said the document is timely as centers, including his own, are trying to restart some outpatient visits, as early as next week.
“They made a point about talking about cohesive partnerships with regional public health officials and I think that’s great. The question is how does that happen,” he told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology. “In New York, we’re not allowed to do elective cases but what’s considered elective is not so clearly defined. An AS [aortic stenosis] patient that had a syncopal episode 2 weeks ago, is that considered elective or is that semi-urgent? I think that’s one of the challenges and that’s where these partnerships would be useful.”
Other challenges include the need for regional partnerships to better align hospitals, which in the New York area means half a dozen large healthcare systems, and to coordinate care between hospital departments – all of which will be scheduling imaging and OR time for their own backlog of hernia, knee, or hip surgeries.
Finally, there’s the need for a lot of conversation with the patient and their family about returning to a hospital amid a deadly pandemic.
“I had a patient today and the daughter was very concerned about bringing her in,” Kodali said. “She’s in class IV heart failure but her [daughter’s] big concern was: who is she going to be exposed to when she gets the echo? What kind of protection is there for her? Is the tech wearing a mask?
“It’s not just the health care providers that have to have the comfort, but it’s the patients and their families who have to feel comfortable bringing their loved ones here for treatment,” he said. “Because everyone is concerned about the environment.”
Wood reports receiving unrestricted grant support from Edwards Lifesciences and Abbott Vascular and serving as a consultant for Edwards Lifesciences, Medtronic, Abbott Vascular, and Boston Scientific. Poppas reports no relevant conflicts of interest. Kodali reports consultant (honoraria) from Admedus, Meril Life Sciences, JenaValve, and Abbott Vascular; SAB (equity) from Dura Biotech, MicroInterventional Devices, Thubrikar Aortic Valve, Supira, and Admedus; and institutional funding from Edwards Lifesciences, Medtronic, Abbott Vascular, Boston Scientific, and JenaValve.
This article first appeared on Medscape.com.