Telehealth & Technology: Key to Heart Health

Michelle Baker

New technology has the power to help bridge enormous gaps in cardiovascular care, particularly for some of the most at-risk, vulnerable patients.

heart health month 2020 telehealth

Throughout February, we’ve seen the startling statistics about cardiovascular disease (CVD) including the fact that approximately 647,000 Americans die from heart disease each year—1 in every 4 deaths.  Amidst red dresses and messages about heart disease prevention, screening and risk factors – technology can create efficiencies and improve health outcomes. This is more than mere “messaging.” Technology should be center stage because innovation is central to shifting the trend to reach patients with important life-saving cardiovascular care and monitoring.

Medical technology – including remote care, whether through virtual visits and exams, consultations, or continuous monitoring using a growing array of implantable or wearable devices – helps cardiologists reach and treat patients in new and important ways. New technology has the power to help bridge enormous gaps in cardiovascular care, particularly for some of the most at-risk, vulnerable patients.

  • Rural populations: The future incidence of CVD may be higher among the 62 million Americans living in rural areas. Rural cardiology patients already report higher rates of CVD risk factors and report fewer visits to cardiologists. This is likely to increase as workforce experts predict a cardiologist shortage that will hit rural areas harder than urban areas.
  • Underserved patients: Many patients are unable to take time off work, travel or pay for routine cardiology care and visits. Telehealth and mobile technologies help break down barriers to the most routine care that helps control CVD risk factors that lead to advanced disease. Studies have shown that telemedicine use helps vulnerable populations better manage high blood pressure, diabetes and other CVD contributors.

Telehealth has been slow to gain widespread utilization; however, the tide is changing. In fact, 66% of US adults were willing to use telehealth and 8% had participated in telehealth, while two-thirds use some type of digital health monitoring device (2019 Harris Poll). And cardiology has seen the widest use with the Apple 4/5 watch, an FDA-approved app that transmits EKGs in real time, enhancing cardiac rehab programs and telestroke care. The key is to get this technology into routine, preventive care and for those at increased risk.

There are inconsistent reimbursement policy and implementation challenges looming to further the reach and impact of medical technologies in high-risk, vulnerable populations. Often innovation in the Medicaid program lags ten years from the medical mainstream. However, it is important to reach the more than 75 million Medicare beneficiaries and others at increased CVD risk earlier and more effectively. The future of cardiac care depends on ensuring access to care as well as screening and monitoring technologies.