A novel telemedicine approach to remotely guide ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction treatment in four Latin American countries screened more than 780,000 patients and resulted in a mortality rate of 5.2%, results from a 1-year, prospective, observational study showed.
“We have created a modality where the care of acute MI can be remotely guided,” lead investigator Sameer Mehta, MD, MBA, said during a press briefing at the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography & Interventions virtual annual scientific sessions. “This flattens the disparity between the developed and the developing countries, particularly in the poorer parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.”
Dr. Mehta, chairman of the Lumen Foundation in Miami, and colleagues developed a “hub and spoke” platform to expand STEMI access to more than 100 million people in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Argentina. For the effort, known as the Latin America Telemedicine Infarct Network (LATIN), “spokes” consisted of small clinics and primary health care centers in remote locations, while the “hubs” were medical centers that provided percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) and/or coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery. There were 313 spokes, 47 hubs, and more than 2,000 health care professionals who participated in the endeavor, including about 600 physicians.
The study, which is the largest of its kind, implemented a 3T strategy: telemedicine, triage, and transport, “which was the hardest part,” Dr. Mehta said. “In some cases, the spokes were located up to 300 miles away from the hubs. Up to 11% of these spokes in the remote areas did not even have a physician. Some had nurses who were triaging the patients.”
Patients who presented at spoke sites were enrolled into LATIN and data were collected through a form that included patient demographics, previous medical history, and an ECG. This information was sent through an app to one of three telemedicine diagnosis centers with 24/7 access to a cardiologist: one in Colombia, one in Brazil, one in Argentina. Once STEMI was identified by ECG, the STEMI protocol was activated, sending alerts to both designated hub and spoke sites and triggering ambulance dispatch. At the spoke sites, thrombolysis, a pharmaco-invasive strategy, or a primary PCI was performed, depending on case and treatment availability. Patients with successful thrombolysis were stabilized for up to 24 hours before transferral to a hub. Patients for whom reperfusion failed were transferred immediately to a hub for rescue PCI.
Dr. Mehta reported findings from 780,234 telemedicine encounters that occurred in the LATIN network in 2018. Telemedicine experts diagnosed 8,395 patients (1%) with STEMI, of which 3,872 (46%) were urgently treated at 47 hubs. A total of 3,015 (78%) were reperfused with PCI. Time-to-telemedicine diagnosis averaged 3.5 minutes. “It used to take us 11 minutes of time to make a diagnosis by telemedicine,” Dr. Mehta said. “By the time we were done with the trial, the time to diagnosis was brought down to 3.5 minutes.” Average door-to-balloon time was 48 minutes and the STEMI mortality was 5.2%. This represents a 55% reduction in STEMI mortality from when LATIN began as a pilot project in 2013, Dr. Mehta said.
Hypertension was the most prevalent underlying disease (59%), followed by smoking (30%) and diabetes (29%), and the male to female STEMI diagnosis ratio was 1.71. The chief reason for nontreatment was coverage denial from insurance carriers (71%). “Getting payers onboard is extremely difficult, because being located here in Miami, is it very hard for me to convince them about the importance of supporting these people,” Dr. Mehta said. “However, as time has passed [and with] coverage of LATIN by the media, the program has become better known. We have been able to work mainly through the health secretaries [in these four countries], but is difficult from there onward.”
LATIN investigators faced other hurdles, which were unique in each of the four countries. “In Colombia, we were facing all sorts of geographical challenges; Brazil was challenging because of its size of the country and [difficulty establishing relationships with] some of the inner-city hospitals,” he said. “Mexico and Argentina were unique from the telemedicine point of view.” The fact that the care of LATIN patients was navigated from one of three telemedicine diagnosis centers “demonstrates the ability of telemedicine,” he said. “If I am able to guide a patient in Mexico from Bogotá, Colombia, it should be easy to guide a patient from Miami who’s presenting in Zambia.”
Dealing with the lack of ambulance services in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Argentina has also been a hitch to the effort. “There is either a complete lack of ambulances or there is no central ambulance system,” he said. “In one of the earlier cities where we started the program in Colombia, 84% of patients used to self-transport. At the moment, 79% are being transported by ambulance. So, the halo effect of how LATIN has helped MI management has been impressive.”
Despite the lack of a comparator study as robust as LATIN, the program was estimated to reach between $39.6 million and $119 million USD total savings during the study period. This includes the cost of tele-emergency encounters, avoided transfers, and the cost of transportation. The investigators project that by the year 2026, 5 million patients could be triaged by this telemedicine pathway, saving $249 million. “As we are getting excited about the developments and the possibilities of telemedicine in the COVID-19 era, I think the work of LATIN becomes all the more relevant,” Dr. Mehta said during his main presentation.
During the press briefing, Timothy D. Henry, MD, praised the success of LATIN in reaching an underserved population. “The majority of these patients 10 years ago were not being treated with any reperfusion therapy at all,” said Dr. Henry, medical director of The Carl and Edyth Lindner Center for Research and Education at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati. “With rapid diagnosis and the process of putting [LATIN] in place, that has increased to the point where 78% are now getting primary PCI. That is remarkable.”
LATIN was supported by an educational grant from the Medtronic Foundation. Dr. Mehta and Dr. Henry both reported having no financial disclosures.