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How Cardiology and Virtual Visits Work for Heart Patients

February 23, 2021

Lots of new phrases have sprung from the coronavirus pandemic: social distancing, essential workers, flatten the curve, and telehealth. Just as these have become part of our vernacular, so have they become part of our routines. But telehealth - also called telemedicine - has been around in many forms since the 1920s, when radios were used to provide medical advice to clinics on ships. Rural areas have used radio and more recently video to provide medical care for those in remote locations. Last March, when Gov. Ned Lamont declared a state of emergency in Connecticut due to the coronavirus pandemic, most of the state went into lockdown. As part of his emergency orders, Lamont required Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers to cover telehealth visits. “After we launched virtual visits last spring, within three weeks we had pivoted to almost 90 percent virtual health,'' said Dr. Howard L. Haronian, Chief Medical Director, Vice President, East Region, Hartford HealthCare Heart & Vascular Institute. “Within a month, Hartford HealthCare was doing 150,000 virtual visits.” Haronian said that since restrictions eased, “we are now seeing about 10 percent of patients virtually.” Haronian likes the virtual visit to meet patients from out of town who are referred to him for cardiac interventions, “so we know each other before we meet for the actual procedure. It gives spouses and families a chance to easily join visits, because they are still not allowed at in-person visits.” Dr. Sumeet Pawar, a Cardiology Specialist with the Heart & Vascular Institute, said he has been gratified to see his colleagues embrace the technology in the last year. “During an office visit, there are certain components of the visit that don’t require us to be in the same room,” Pawar said. “A big part of what we do during these visits is provide test results and discuss treatment options. That discussion can be conducted virtually. We don’t need to be in the same room.” For example, Pawar talks about a patient who was having heart issues, and so he ordered a stress test, which obviously has to be done in the office. “But the subsequent visits," he said, "those would be to talk about next steps, and in those situations we can easily accomplish it in a video conference.” Dr. Michael Fucci, Chief of Cardiology at Backus and Windham hospitals, joined Hartford HealthCare in May 2020. “I was seeing the majority of my patients using virtual visits,” he said. “More recently, as a result of Hartford HealthCare’s COVID Recovery Center program, I am able to see patients with previous COVID-19 infections using telehealth, which greatly increases access to multi-specialty care for these patients. Even though my office is located in Mystic, I have been able to care for patients as far away as Windsor and Ansonia using virtual visits.”