TORONTO, ONTARIO (February 22, 2021) – During Heart Month and on Valve Disease Day, Heart Valve Voice (HVV) Canada is pleased to recognize recent advancements in treatment options for Canadian cardiac patients, but remains concerned about the continued delays and difficulties in accessing treatments as a result of the pandemic. HVV Canada is calling on all provincial governments to prioritize heart valve disease care to ensure timely access to treatment.
Health Canada recently expanded the eligibility of low-risk patients for a minimally invasive procedure called Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI) to treat severe aortic stenosis and bicuspid aortic valve disease. Traditionally only an option for patients at high-risk for open-heart surgery, this expansion will help provide additional treatment choices for patients and offers potential benefits like shorter hospital stays and quicker recovery times. However, in order for patients to experience the benefits of this expanded eligibility, Canada’s provinces will have to fund the procedure at higher capacities.
While this is an example of some progress being made in increasing access to heart valve disease treatment, the pandemic and its consequent delayed treatments and postponed appointments have highlighted that more is required to protect Canadians from experiencing increased severity in their disease or premature death during this time. Like many diagnoses, those with heart valve disease have various steps to go through from initial tests to treatment – and expansions such as Health Canada’s approvals help improve just one step of the process they have to go through.
“When changes are made to the way that treatments are approved, accessed and funded, they must consider the entire patient journey and where other barriers may exist for each patient – not just one part of their journey,” notes Dr. Charles Peniston, Cardiologist and Cardiothoracic Surgery Specialist, Chair of HVV’s Board of Directors. “While Health Canada’s approvals are definitely a step in the right direction, it ultimately comes down to provinces choosing to fund this procedure. This is an essential consideration if we are to continue bettering access to appropriate treatments for heart valve disease patients.”
Throughout the course of the pandemic, those with heart valve disease or other cardiac conditions have been one of the many patient groups affected by extended wait times for care. Many cardiac surgeries are deemed elective as immediate threat is not always present, but this increases the risk of heart conditions worsening or causing serious emergencies if left untreated in time. Further, pre-pandemic wait times for TAVI were already climbing, and now with additional patients eligible for this treatment option, COVID-19 delays for elective procedures are compounding the problem. HVV Canada is urging federal and provincial governments to prioritize heart valve disease and cardiac patients, and particularly their ability to access timely treatment, in both current pandemic and post-pandemic healthcare planning. Time is of the essence for treating cardiac conditions, which adds urgency for the many Canadians who are waiting for life-saving procedures.
As delays and wait times continue, HVV Canada encourages patients with heart valve disease to closely monitor their symptoms and advises them to seek medical attention if their symptoms change or worsen. While many patients are hesitant to seek care during the pandemic, health care systems and hospitals remain equipped to treat patients safely in emergency situations.