7 Heart Conditions That Can Be Treated in a Telehealth Visit
Almost half of American adults have some type of heart or blood vessel disease, according to the American Heart Association. With appropriate medical treatment, many of these conditions, including hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart failure, can be controlled, decreasing the risk that affected individuals will develop a serious complication, such as a heart attack or stroke.
Increasingly, physicians are using technology to help patients manage heart conditions. Telecardiology is the use of telemedicine (including video visits and remote monitoring) to diagnose and treat heart disease.
These seven common heart conditions can be treated via telehealth.
1Congenital Heart Disease
Approximately 800,000 American adults have congenital heart disease, or a heart condition that’s been present since birth. Most adults with congenital heart disease should be monitored throughout their lifetime by a heart specialist. The inconvenience of scheduling and traveling to medical appointments, though, means that many adults with congenital heart disease do not regularly see a specialist.
Telehealth allows patients to consult a specialist from the comfort of home. Patients can share vital signs and symptoms with a physician via secure video chat; the physician can then review and update the treatment plan.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Controlling blood pressure with diet, exercise, lifestyle changes, and medication can decrease the risk of serious complications and improve overall well-being.
Telehealth makes it easy for patients to share their blood pressure readings with healthcare providers, who can then adjust the patient’s blood pressure medicine as necessary, and recommend additional lifestyle changes or medical testing. Some “smart” blood pressure monitors record blood pressure readings directly to an app; patients care easily share results with their doctors. Research shows that blood pressure telemonitoring may improve patient health and decrease costs.
In 2016, a hospital in Maryland launched a telehealth program for patients with chronic heart failure. Patients were given a tablet computer as well as a Bluetooth-equipped (wireless) blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter and scale. Patients measured their blood pressure, oxygen levels and weight with the devices; that information was transmitted to the tablets and shared with healthcare professionals, who periodically connected with patients via phone calls, texts and video chats. The use of telehealth decreased hospital readmission rates for these patients by 89% because healthcare providers were able to detect and treat problems before they escalated.
4Heart Surgery Recovery
Telecardiology is a cost-effective way to decrease complications and improve the overall health of patients recovering from heart surgery, according to a 2016 article published in Annals of Vascular Surgery. Patients who monitored their blood pressure, weight, temperature, and oxygen levels, and then shared that information with healthcare providers via telehealth experienced improved quality of life compared to patients who did not participate in telehealth after heart surgery. Another study found that telehealth visits can reduce emergency room visits after heart surgery.
Atrial fibrillation (afib) is a common heart arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm) that increases the risk of stroke. In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowed the sale and marketing of an app that uses a smartphone camera or smartwatch sensors to detect atrial fibrillation. Because treatment of atrial fibrillation is often based on heart rhythm data and patient report of symptoms, physicians can manage many cases of afib via telehealth.
6Pacemaker and ICD Monitoring
Many of today’s pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators automatically record patients’ heart rhythm data and can transmit that data to a home-based monitoring system. The technology allows patients to share valuable information with their healthcare providers without leaving home. If frequent heart rhythm disturbances are noted, the healthcare team can adjust the treatment plan or recommend an in-person visit as necessary.
7Heart Attack Recovery
It takes time to rebuild stamina and heart muscle after a heart attack. That’s why most healthcare providers recommend cardiac rehabilitation, a structured program that combines education and exercise, to patients who have survived a heart attack. Unfortunately, only about 20 to 25% of patients follow through with cardiac rehab; many who do not participate lack transportation to appointments.
Henry Ford Health System uses an app to provide cardiac rehabilitation services to patients virtually. Patients can view educational videos and exercises, and communicate with healthcare providers via video chat. Those who complete cardiac rehab typically experience improved health and quality of life.