Dr. Jeff Wessler (MD MPhil FACC) is a virtual cardiologist, the Founder of Heartbeat Health, and on clinical faculty at Northwell Health.
Photo By: Robina Weermeijer
Did you know someone in the U.S. dies of heart disease every 34 seconds?
Although we’ve made great progress in countering heart disease over the last several decades, death rates are on the rise, and heart disease is the leading cause of death across men, women and nearly all racial and ethnic groups in the United States.
Moreover, we often identify heart disease late despite knowing that 80% of premature heart disease and strokes are preventable.
Take hypertension, for example, which many view as a silent killer. Though 116 million American adults have hypertension, over 88 million are not controlling it.
Although all these trend lines might feel hopeless, as a practicing cardiologist and heart health entrepreneur who founded a virtual-first cardiology company, I remain increasingly optimistic about the future.
Here are five of the top heart health trends for healthcare organizations and health tech entrepreneurs to follow.
- Consumer Wearables That Measure The Heart
Two interesting things happened in 2022:
- It seems like everyone now has a wearable that tells them something about their heart, and
- Clinicians are hearing about it.
In my experience, patients are bringing their data in for interpretation like never before. Starting with the Apple Watch and moving quickly to include Google (Fitbit), Samsung, Withings and many, many more—the consumer wearables market now measures several key heart biometrics that could actually support clinical care. Many of these devices track physiologic parameters like heart rate and heart rhythm based on factors like pulse and electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors, as well as activity, sleep and even blood pressure. These all are key inputs for identifying and managing heart disease and could help bring these devices from a “clinically dubious” to “clinically meaningful” state. More importantly, many of these devices have now been studied—in large (sometimes very large) studies—on specific populations to determine their effect. As I’ve written about before, companies that produce these devices should invest in conducting more clinical trials on their products. Much more research is needed here, but the message is clear for me: these devices have the potential to help with care, and they’re on the wrists of millions of people now. Value-based healthcare organizations should consider better preparing their clinicians with the data that pours in from these devices.
- The COVID-19 Effect
COVID-19 left two particularly sinister cardiovascular consequences in its wake. First, post-acute sequelae of COVID, a.k.a., ‘Long-COVID’—a particularly awful syndrome afflicting some people who get COVID. Second, when the pandemic was at its peak, one research review explains that “decreases in health care delivery were observed in many countries in 2020 because of lockdown policies and health systems shifting to create capacity for COVID-19 patients … In England, percutaneous coronary interventions, surgical aortic valve replacement, and transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedures decreased substantially.” Some patients may have avoided their routine cardiology care, the number of heart attacks reportedly dropped mysteriously (paywall), and elective (but necessary) cardiovascular procedures were often canceled or rescheduled. In order for medical practices and healthcare technology leaders to address any problems that arise from these changes, they should engage in aggressive education and develop early detection and management strategies to encourage proactive patient care.
- Lipids Of The Future: Not Your Grandparents’ Cholesterol
The entire field of lipidology, cholesterol and early coronary disease management is being upended as you read this. There are new lab tests like Lipoprotein (a), AI-enabled approaches like Cleerly’s (a Heartbeat Health partner) to assessing coronary plaque buildup in heart arteries, and medicines that may be used in combination with statins. I believe the expansion of diagnosis and treatment options along this pathway could move us away from a “one-size-fits-all” model to one of personalized care that could yield positive results. In order to be effective, new business models should challenge the traditional approaches to care by engaging patients directly and promoting opportunities for them to take ownership over their own heart care.
- Telemedicine Taking On Specialty Care
Specialty care—things like cardiology, nephrology, dermatology and orthopedics—tends to differ tremendously from primary care and urgent care in its accessibility. It takes about 26 days on average to see a cardiologist across the United States, according to research conducted by AMN Healthcare and Merritt Hawkins. This is too long for such high-stakes issues. Practices can consider leveraging telemedicine to shorten this window and improve the ability for patients to get to high-quality care before it is too late and it ends up as emergency care. (Full disclosure: My company offers telemedicine capabilities.) Telemedicine platforms are now plentiful. Specialists should consider if and how to use them as a means to triage symptoms, order diagnostic testing and medications and manage chronic conditions. Experienced specialists should determine when in-person or “terrestrial care” is necessary instead of virtual care to ensure the results are better for all.
- AFib Joining The Conversation
Atrial fibrillation (a.k.a., AF or AFib) is getting a lot of coverage in the mainstream news these days. Why? Up to one in three adults are at risk of developing AFib. This common rhythm abnormality can cause strokes, rapid heart rates and heart failure. Devices like patches, watches and wearables that look for irregular heart rhythms and diagnose AFib could make it easier for doctors to see the onset of earlier diagnosis of AFib than ever before. If medical practices use devices like these, they could also consider whether it’s appropriate to incorporate televisits for prescriptions, communication of results and development of care plans.
If we design programs and solutions like these correctly, we can work toward uncovering risk factors earlier and initiating life-saving therapies before it’s too late.
The information provided here is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for advice concerning your specific situation.
Dr. Jeff Wessler (MD MPhil FACC) is a virtual cardiologist, the Founder of Heartbeat Health, and on clinical faculty