The Beat Goes On: Exciting Heart Health Advances to Anticipate in the 2020s
Cardiovascular medicine has been changing at an incredible pace over the past 25 years. But the 2020s may prove to be the most progressive and exciting decade yet. From new drugs and surgical devices coming our way, to new ways of monitoring and caring for our patients, a compelling wave of breakthroughs in technology and medicine is already breaking at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute. That’s great news for our patients, who will benefit from increasingly personalized care and new treatment approaches that can help them live longer and better.
Here are just some of the innovations in cardiology that our heart health team—and patients—can look forward to:
Expanded Use of Telehealth in Cardiology
Think of it as a virtual house call! Telehealth services let you use live video on your computer or mobile device to connect remotely with your doctor or other care provider. As we gradually expand these services, patients will find greater convenience and more opportunities to share information with their doctor.
Although some medical appointments are better handled in person, telehealth can make simple consults, or even post-treatment follow-ups, accessible from home. Telehealth also encompasses use of patient portals, where you can access records and results and send requests directly to your care team. It includes a growing array of monitoring devices you can wear or use at home to record and transmit health information to your doctor. It’s even enabling primary care providers to virtually consult with specialists within and beyond their hospital networks.
In the years ahead, I’d expect telehealth might even connect small community-based care providers—like local pharmacies or urgent care centers—with the higher-level medical expertise provided by larger healthcare centers. At MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute, we’re already using an array of telehealth services across various specialties, and this month, we’re introducing Telehealth Cardiology visits for routine follow-up heart care at one of our centers. We anticipate that it will become standard across MedStar Heart entities very quickly.
New and Improved Health Monitoring Devices and Diagnostic Tests
We continue to see inspiring developments in non-invasive diagnostic tools. These include new blood tests that can identify treatable biomarkers and genetic mutations associated with specific heart problems, new imaging options such as imaging inflammation in the heart, and improved versions of traditional imaging tools such as cardiac MRI and CT scans that we’ve used for years. These will continue to transform what we do in cardiovascular medicine over the next decade.
The benefit? Your doctor won’t just be able to tell you what’s wrong, he or she will also use the tests and the enhanced information they provide to determine the best way to treat you. We’ll also be able to cross-reference your test information with a rich database of health outcomes data and make very accurately informed decisions about how to best approach your heart health and achieve the best possible outcomes.
In addition, over the next decade, watch for greater use of personal digital monitoring devices that allow you to continuously track and monitor your own health signs—like heart rhythm and blood pressure—and transmit them to your healthcare providers. That capability will increasingly enable both doctors and patients to identify or predict potential problems, even before symptoms occur. Thanks to innovations in technology and wireless communications, we’ll benefit from a wave of personal monitoring and diagnostic devices that are becoming smaller, easily implantable, and even more comfortable to wear.
New Treatments That Improve Heart Health Outcomes
Extraordinary breakthroughs in new cardiac drugs and devices will alter how we handle treatments over the next decade as well. There are more than I can possibly cover in this post, but, in general, we’ll see drugs that improve outcomes in treating and preventing heart disease, and new devices made simpler and safer while delivering the same excellent results.
I’m particularly excited about the advances we’re already seeing in cholesterol management with new adjunct drugs entering the market, including the recently approved prescription fish oil medication and the forthcoming new PCSK9 inhibitors. For the past 30 years, we’ve largely relied on statins to manage cholesterol profiles, but new adjunct therapies like these mean we’ll be able to provide even better outcomes for specific patients with or at high risk for heart disease.
Additionally, our knowledge about genetics and the underlying causes of conditions like heart muscle diseases that can lead to heart failure has exploded. Five years ago, we would have treated every case of heart muscle disease with the same set of drugs. Today, we’re identifying new treatment opportunities for newly identified issues, such as amyloidosis or sarcoidosis, as a cause of cardiomyopathy. Brand new drugs to treat specific issues like these are coming quickly to the forefront. Many new, targeted treatments with immunologic and biologic medications will allow us to improve outcomes for heart conditions that were previously difficult to treat. For instance, patients with diabetes —a common precursor for heart disease—should ask their doctors if it’s time to consider how some of these newer treatments may help protect the heart.
As for devices, we’re really excited about the first wave of non-invasive ways to treat heart valve disease. This includes minimally invasive approaches that allow us to replace or repair heart valves by accessing them through a blood vessel, rather than via open heart surgery. Some of these noninvasive treatments are already in successful use for aortic and mitral valve problems. We’ll undoubtedly be able to apply those same techniques to other valve issues in the near future, and many new platforms are in testing. Over the next decade, I expect that use of open heart surgery to treat a heart valve problem alone will become a thing of the past.
In the 2020s, cardiology patients will be empowered by information and technology like never before, says Dr. @TaylorMHVIcard. https://bit.ly/31ML79C via @MedStarWHC
More Medical Care Within the Outpatient Setting
Thanks in part to telehealth, remote monitoring, and testing and surgical innovations, we’ll also see even more cardiology care moving from the inpatient hospital setting to the outpatient setting. This long-term trend has been accelerating. For instance, in the 1980s, cardiac catheterization required a 3-day hospital stay, yet it’s evolved into an outpatient procedure for patients who aren’t high risk. Most electrophysiology procedures, like implanting pacemakers and defibrillators, are now simply and safely handled as outpatient procedures.
In the near term, certain heart valve procedures that once required a 5- to 6-day hospital stay may also become outpatient or 1-day procedures, thanks to simpler, non-invasive surgical techniques and new devices. Over the next decade, we’ll have an even greater ability to deliver outstanding medical treatment safely, successfully, and more conveniently without disrupting people’s lives with an extended hospital stay.
More Empowered Patients, More Personalized Care
Overall, the 2020s will be the decade of the more informationally empowered patient—in cardiology and beyond. Equipped with smart devices and data-capturing technologies, connection to their electronic health records, and feeding anonymized data into augmented intelligence networks, patients and doctors will have more powerful interactions and information insights to work with.
This will better equip both you and your care providers to identify and predict problems early, so we can act early to help prevent and treat them. It will also allow us to better customize treatment care recommendations, with an eye to what’s really best for each individual.
The greatest payoff that I anticipate? Our patients will actually benefit from stronger healthcare and better outcomes, both at a lower overall cost.