Pandemic presents long-term risks to heart health: Canadian survey of experts

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Canadian health experts, including those at Edmonton’s Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute, fear a deterioration in heart health for the foreseeable future as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.


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Delays in diagnosis and treatment are the main cause of the feared outcomes, said eight in 10 experts who responded to a Heart and Stroke Foundation survey released Tuesday.

Nine out of 10 experts are concerned that the health of people living with heart disease or stroke has worsened due to limited access to care during the pandemic.

“We are always open for business in taking care of (people's) hearts,” said Dr. Justin Ezekowitz, a cardiologist at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute in Edmonton.
“We are always open for business in taking care of (people’s) hearts,” said Dr. Justin Ezekowitz, a cardiologist at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute in Edmonton. Postmedia, archive

More than half are concerned about deteriorating cardiovascular health among people who did not have heart conditions before COVID.

“I’m afraid we will see a wave of patients who will need both more care and more intense care, and we will need further research to find out how we better manage these diseases,” he said. Dr. Clare Atzema, Heart and Stroke Foundation-funded researcher and emergency medicine physician at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, responded to the survey.


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The foundation surveyed 370 experts, including family physicians, cardiologists, neurologists and nurses, between Aug. 16 and Sept. 7 on how the pandemic has affected patient care.

Professionals and researchers are also concerned about the inequalities in care that the pandemic exacerbated, with COVID hitting low-income neighborhoods more than wealthier ones.

Dr. Justin Ezekowitz, a cardiologist at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute in Edmonton, told Postmedia that the survey accurately reflects what he sees in his patients.

Avoidance of medical care due to fear of COVID has contributed to patients not receiving the care they need.

“We are concerned about that,” he said. “In emergency departments and in outpatient care, we have found it challenging to keep up with that care. There are fewer appointments and fewer procedures that can lead to gaps in care. But we also want them to know that we are always open for business in the care of their hearts. “


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Ezekowitz hopes the survey will warn Alberta cardiovascular patients about the importance of continuing their recovery program by taking their medications, eating healthy, being active and taking care of their mental health.

It recognizes that inequities in health care will persist after the pandemic, but can be reduced if the most vulnerable members of society are not left behind.

“The solutions are many,” he said. “Build community facilities for exercise, centers where people can receive medical care, expand the availability of digital portals or telehealth, and there is an element of in-person care that we should not overlook.”

Once the pandemic passes, the system will face significant challenges in terms of exhaustion of healthcare providers, longer wait times for appointments and procedures, and heavier system burdens of more and more sick patients, according to the survey. .

To avoid that, Ezekowitz said health care should always come before other priorities in the economy.

“If people are not healthy, they cannot contribute to the economy or to our society. How we allocate (resources) to healthcare depends on how the government makes those decisions, ”he said.

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