Today in the United States, almost 86 million people have been diagnosed with some form of heart condition, and cardiovascular issues claim more lives than any other disease, both nationally and internationally.
The good news is that there is evidence that the increased use of echocardiograms is helping to improve American’s heart health. In the decade between 2001 and 2010, mortality rates from heart disease decreased by 39%, at the same time that Medicare reported an 80% increase in the use of imaging services, with echocardiograms making up a $1.2 billion share of this market. One of the most in-depth and effective types of echocardiogram is the Stress Echocardiogram, also known as the stress echo or stress test.
Understanding Stress Echocardiogram Evaluations
Just like with an echocardiogram (ECG), a stress echocardiogram (stress echo) uses ultrasound technology to take images of a patient’s heart while they are at rest. During a stress echo, electrodes are then placed on the chest to determine the electrical activity of the heart while a patient is experiencing the effects of exertion from exercise, typically on a treadmill or exercise bike, in order to get a more realistic sense of how their heart responds to high-stress situations. Once a patient starts experiencing symptoms or reaches their target heart rate, they stop the activity and undergo a second ultrasound that measures activity while they are coming back to a state of rest.
When all 3 phases of the test are complete, a cardiologist compares the test to the baseline readings to help determine if any anomalies are present that require further medical treatment. This more extensive echo test is typically requested if a cardiologist finds that additional data is needed in order to make a diagnosis after a patient presents with symptoms. It is also used to pinpoint the exact nature of an anomaly that was previously detected on a regular echocardiogram, or to help monitor how well a patient’s cardiac prevention plan is working.
The test reveals several key aspects of how the heart operates, including blood and oxygen distribution throughout the patient’s heart muscles. By taking a complete scan of the chambers and valves of the heart and recording electrical signaling patterns, details begin to emerge about how well a patient’s heart tolerates activity, if their wall thickness is within normal range, if any unsynchronized signals are present, and whether valve stenosis or regurgitation are present. These details allow cardiologists to better evaluate the heart for the presence of conditions such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, valve and structural defects, and atrial fibrillation.
How Telecardiology Helps Improve Stress Echocardiogram Results
Better Communication Between Cardiologists and Sonographers
Because administering a stress echo involves a precise set of skills in order to achieve the most accurate results, cardiologists often prefer to be able to interact with sonographers in real time in order to properly guide them through the test administration. This is especially true with pediatric cases. Because 40,000 infants are born with congenital heart defects each year, with 10,000 of these cases considered critical, having the ability to interact with heart specialists 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is an enormous benefit. Board Certified telecardiologists are able to “be present” in the intensive care unit, ER, or nursery from anywhere in the country, and this additional expertise can help ensure accurate measurements that improve diagnostic sensitivity.
In fact, several clinical studies of both adult and pediatric facilities have found that sonographers are more proficient and patient care is improved after the facilities incorporated telecardiology into their practices. This in turn has helped promote the growth of clinical practices through increased patient confidence and overall cost-effectiveness.
Faster Interpretations That Help Save Lives
Because of its ability to immediately digitally decode and then display a full 12-lead ECG at a telecardiology interpretation center, digital technology allows diagnostic reports to be sent back to hospitals, clinics, and medical facilities within minutes. For certain leading critical cases, this has been shown to be the single most important factor in reducing the time between hospital admittance and life-saving surgery. In fact, one recent study of 500 echocardiogram evaluations across 3 leading hospitals found that neonatal ECG transmission rates were reduced from an average of 12 hours to less than 30 minutes when using a telecardiology interpretation service versus traditional delivery methods.
More Accurate Diagnoses of a Diverse Range of Heart Conditions
Telecardiology also allows for both quick consultations with other leading specialists and the ability to run results against a digital database, which utilizes AI technology to bring up similar oxygen, blood flow, and defect patterns. This means cardiologists aren’t just comparing stress echo tests against a patient’s baseline ECG: they also have access to heart images and recordings from many other patients who show similar markings. This helps opens up a broader understanding of the patient’s condition.
The secure storage of digital ECG evaluations also means that any future stress tests can be quickly compared against the patient’s past results. In addition, diagnosing or excluding conditions such as coronary artery disease at rural hospitals is improved with the use of telecardiology, which helps give even the most remote patients better managed care.
Better Ability to Optimize a Health Care Plan with the Patient’s PCP
With telecardiology, communications between cardiologists and sonographers aren’t the only interactions that are given a boost. Telecardiologists are also able to quickly share interpretations with primary care physicians when patients present to them with symptoms, which is especially important in determining if an urgent referral is needed to a specialist.
This also allows PCPs to gain a more complete understanding of how to proceed with a cardiac care plan. For instance, a patient who is already following a healthy eating plan may be prescribed certain pharmaceuticals after a stress test interpretation reveals that their atrial fibrillation is caused by mild high blood pressure. That same patient who has more extreme hypertension, which is causing highly abnormal sinus rhythms, may be advised to undergo an immediate electrical cardioversion in addition to medication.
The fast, highly accurate ECG results available from remote cardiologist interpretations helps ensure that PCPs are given the most optimized information possible that allows them to create the best plan of care for their cardiac patients. Contact us to learn even more about how our U.S., Board Certified telecardiologists and cutting-edge PACS technology can assist your facility in improving stress echo results and transforming the lives of your cardiac patients today.