“The impetus for this manuscript was a recent discussion within the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA) and [its] Scientific Leadership Council who expressed a need for guidelines from experts in the field,” wrote John J. Ryan, MD, of the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and colleagues.
The authors highlight some of the unique challenges in caring for patients with pulmonary hypertension (PH), particularly pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Telemedicine and temporary visit schedules for new and returning PAH patients can help reduce risk of virus transmission, if patient accessibility to telemedicine is feasible. Protocols to reduce the risk of virus exposure or transmission in the office setting included less frequent echocardiography and 6-Minute Walk Tests (6MWTs) for patients in stable condition. In stable patients, “avoid pulmonary function of V/Q tests when possible,” the authors wrote.
New patients who have been referred for PAH present a challenge in conducting a thorough evaluation that would normally include measurement of invasive hemodynamics in keeping with current diagnostic guidelines. Clinicians will need to balance the potential risks of COVID-19 exposure during elective procedures against the benefits of full evaluations to plan PAH treatment, the authors noted.
For established patients who are clinically stable, remote visits may be an option, with a risk/benefit assessment of the need for in-person diagnostic tests at the current time, they said. However, telemedicine’s limitations include not only patient accessibility and understanding of audio and video technology, but also inability to accurately measure vital signs, they said.
As for routine testing such as echocardiograms, 6MWTs, and other laboratory testing, “it is important to consider the additive value of these sometimes comprehensive tests in the context of the risks associated with visiting the hospital or clinic to obtain them,” the authors said.
Patients who are unstable and experience worsening right heart failure (RHF) at home may have contracted a COVID-19 infection, but the differential diagnosis includes sepsis, ischemia, and PAH disease progression. “During the current pandemic, fever at home in a PAH patient should be assumed to represent a COVID-19 infection,” and patients with worsening respiratory symptoms that require hospitalization should be tested for COVID-19, the authors emphasized.
Use of ECMO or other intensive interventions should be considered in the context of risk assessment, the authors said. “As a general recommendation, practitioners should consider utilizing an established PAH-specific risk assessment tool to help identify patients who are more likely to survive heroic interventions during the COVID-19 outbreak,” they wrote.
Training and education of PH providers will continue to be limited by the pandemic, and many clinical trials and research programs have been suspended and will need to be restructured to minimize risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus, the authors said. However, health care providers must continue to provide PAH patients and families with advice and updates in best practices, while “acknowledging that the situation changes rapidly,” they concluded.
Dr. Ryan disclosed participating on the speakers bureau, and provides consulting services for, Actelion and Bayer, as well as research support from the Reagan Corporation, the Gordon Family, and the Cushman Family.
SOURCE: Ryan JJ et al. Pulm Circ. 2020 Apr 29. doi: 10.1177/2045894020920153.