TORONTO, June 03, 2020 -- Heart Valve Voice (HVV) Canada, a non-profit patient advocacy organization for those with heart valve disease, urges provincial governments and health care institutions to prioritize the treatment of heart valve disease patients as elective surgeries are reassessed and begin to resume during COVID-19.
Approximately 200,000 surgeries and other procedures were postponed across Canada in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic causing already extensive waiting lists to grow longer, including those affecting heart valve disease patients. For example, approximately 4,000 Ontarians with Aortic Stenosis, a narrowing of the Aortic Valve, were on the waiting list for a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI) procedure before COVID-19. This pre-pandemic backlog, which represents only one treatment option for one form of heart valve disease, has continued to grow as elective procedures were postponed in recent weeks and months.
Every delay in treating heart valve disease patients increases the risk of the condition worsening and, often, the longer the wait time, the higher the risk of mortality. In fact, modelling from the University Health Network last month estimated that unresolved cardiac problems among Ontarians due to these delays have resulted in the death of an estimated 35 patients who were otherwise scheduled for surgery.
The extended delays in treatment also add to the anxiety that many patients are experiencing during this time. In addition to coping with their health diagnosis, the uncertainty surrounding wait times and how waiting may impact long-term prognosis are causing real concerns.
This issue is compounded by patients refraining from seeking medical attention even when their symptoms are worsening because they fear contracting the virus in hospital. Patients are generally not aware of the risks in delaying care and that it can be more dangerous to do so than having to wait for treatment.
As provinces and hospitals reassess delayed procedures and begin to resume elective surgeries, HVV Canada calls on them to ensure heart valve disease patients are prioritized and that additional resources be allocated to reducing the growing wait lists. HVV Canada also encourages all patients to continue to monitor their symptoms and discuss any changes with their health care provider. In the event of deteriorating symptoms, patients should not hesitate to call 911 or go to the emergency room where various precautions and protocols are in place to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.
“Heart valve surgeries have an extremely high success rate and prolong the life of patients,” said Dr. Charles Peniston, Cardiologist and Cardiothoracic Surgery Specialist, Chair of HVV’s Board of Directors. “Knowing that the vast majority of these surgeries result in a healthier, stable patient is why we strongly encourage the prioritization of heart valve disease patients and their vitally important treatment during the reassessment of elective surgeries.”