Despite Challenges, Telehealth Can Provide Effective Cardiovascular Care

A recently published scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) states that although there are existing challenges related to technology access, telehealth can effectively provide cardiovascular care as well as reduce costs, improve care quality, and increase access to care.

AHA is a voluntary organization focused on improving heart disease and stroke care. In its scientific statement, published in the AHA’s flagship journal Circulation, the association detailed the impact of telehealth use on the treatment of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of telehealth has grown tremendously. In mid-2020, up to 30 percent of all US clinic visits occurred virtually.

A group from the AHA studied the relationship between telehealth and treatment for CVD, concluding that virtual care is generally beneficial for CVD patients. But there are various obstacles to care. The report detailed several strategies for overcoming these common barriers.

The benefits of using telehealth to treat CVD include the potential to reduce healthcare expenditures, improve access among those residing in rural areas, and increase the overall quality of care along with patient satisfaction.

Services such as telehealth portals and smart devices are also good options for CVD patients as they allow clinicians to manage conditions remotely at cost-effective rates, according to the AHA.

Despite these benefits, telehealth use has several downsides, which may affect the patient and the provider.

For providers, there are often challenges related to the uptake of telehealth technology, reimbursement issues, maintaining efficient workflow, and the need for IT infrastructure when managing data gathered from technology.

Meanwhile, patients with CVD often face challenges such as a lack of access to technology, particularly affecting those older or under-resourced. Also, they often face health literacy hurdles, such as cultural barriers.

Further, patients may face issues related to insufficient access to internet bandwidth that enables high-quality video during appointments.

To compensate for these issues, the report detailed various strategies that may help remove barriers to CVD care through telehealth, most of which relate to infrastructure, technology, and reimbursement.

For instance, not all insurance payers reimburse equally for in-person, telephone, and video-based appointments. Thus, as telehealth use continues, the AHA recommends that providers assess telehealth quality and research its role post-pandemic.

“Telehealth will play an important role in the future of cardiovascular care because the evolution of technology will enable new remote care opportunities to improve medical accessibility,” said the statement’s lead author Edwin A. Takahashi, MD, an assistant professor of radiology in the division of interventional radiology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, in a press release. “Hopefully, this will have a strong benefit for patients from historically excluded and rural communities who often face health care disparities and are most at risk for cardiovascular diseases.”

The scientific statement follows several studies displaying the benefits telehealth and remote care can offer patients requiring cardiac care.

A study published in November found that a 12-week remote support program improved blood pressure among hypertension patients. Participants in the study received lifestyle guidance from the AHA, and one group received weekly calls from a dietician.

The two groups experienced similar reductions in 24-hour systolic blood pressure during the study period. However, those who received care from a dietician experienced a more significant reduction in systolic blood pressure while asleep.

The study also led researchers to better understand how to improve blood pressure and reduce the risk of CVD.