Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death for nearly 18 million people worldwide annually — and that number continues to grow.
Traditionally the focus has been on treating specific blood vessel blockages or heart disorders in these patients — in some cases resulting in invasive open-heart surgery — but that’s changing. Imagine instead if we treated these diseases in a more “whole patient” approach, where we focus on improving overall quality of life instead of fixing a specific problem. This is a near-future possibility by using data and technology to improve diagnosis accuracy, enable more precise decision making in interventions, and accelerate evidence-based post-procedural care.
“My mission is to help improve the care continuum for vascular patients and provide a seamless experience,” says Dr. Nick West, chief medical officer and divisional vice president of medical affairs, for the vascular division of Abbott, a global healthcare company.
Abbott was in search of how vascular disease — from risk factors and prevention, to symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments — could be improved. They surveyed over 1,400 patients, referring physicians, and healthcare administrators across nine countries to gain insights and learn how using technology could help improve patient care.
Findings from their research which can be read in their white paper, “Beyond Intervention: Personalized vascular care through technological innovation,” show patients are frustrated by care and want doctors they can trust, more time with those doctors, and a personalized approach for their care. Over 90 percent say sharing their personal health information is important for future generations.
Over half of doctors reported not having enough time with patients. And while 88 percent of physicians say it’s a priority to have access to patient history, only 30 percent say they can easily access that information.
Meanwhile, 88 percent of administrators named patient satisfaction as highly important to the overall procedure experience, and 55 percent say technology can improve decision making at diagnosis.
Data and technology can help unlock improvements in patient care and solve some of these pain points. For example, light-based imaging technology like Abbott’s Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) enables a cardiologist to look inside the blood vessel to optimize their treatment strategy. Being able to look at the structure of the vessel allows a physician to choose the right tools and then check the result — this imaging technology is better than using a traditional two-dimensional angiogram.
“Imagine a future where every imaging procedure can be benchmarked against previous procedures around the world, allowing physicians and their patients to benefit from the learnings from other procedures,” says Dr. West. “We then can provide physicians instantaneous information on the best treatment strategy.”
In addition to optimizing the treatment itself, another challenge is the lack of unified medical records.
“How do you get to personalized medicine, if you don’t have those medical records unified?” asks Dr. Natalia Pinilla-Echeverri, an interventional cardiologist at Hamilton Health Sciences/Niagara Health and assistant professor of the Department of Medicine at McMaster University.
One of her patients, a young woman under 30, traveled a lot for business and had been admitted four times to different hospitals in two months. The patient had had a minor heart attack but without unified medical records, each visit was like starting over. Finally, Dr. Pinilla-Echeverri used the aforementioned imaging technology to diagnose the patient with a severe blood vessel blockage and treated her accordingly.
Without the right diagnosis and documentation of that diagnosis, the patient struggled and so did the system which used costly resources over and over. “As physicians, we have to be open to use new technologies for the better care of our patients,” she says.
The survey found technology has improved care in many ways including earlier identification of comorbidity risks and greater ability to treat patients correctly from the start, reducing readmissions and additional costs. They also found better patient involvement as patients adopt health devices and wearables, such as smartwatches.
Telemedicine, which surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, is another success. Now, it’s mainstream for patients of all ages to have virtual doctor appointments.
Data collected now can help patients today and in the future. But there’s work to be done.
“Unlocking the power of data can significantly improve procedures and better care for patients,” says Dr. West. “By harnessing deep learning and machine learning algorithms to integrate diverse patient data sources, physician decision-making can be supported with the express aim of enhancing outcomes.”
Abbott’s research shows how technology can help doctors deliver better outcomes and create a more connected continuum of care for patients.
Download the white paper: cardiovascular.abbott/beyondintervention