When Virginia’s governor directed the postponement of all elective surgeries in late March, Wayne Batchelor, MD and his colleagues at the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute in Falls Church, Va., canceled about two-thirds of their transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedures.
They then categorized patients by tiers to gauge which procedures could safely be postponed and to guide triaging. And while they did not deviate from the practice of having both an interventional cardiologist and a cardiothoracic surgeon present for TAVR, they slimmed down preprocedural testing when feasible and delayed some 30-day post-TAVR echocardiographic assessments. “It was a delicate dance, very difficult dance. But luckily, we were able to navigate the challenges effectively,” said Dr. Batchelor, the institute’s director of interventional cardiology and interventional cardiology research.
A “system capacity dashboard” that merged bed and staffing data from interventional cardiology spaces with cardiovascular and noncardiovascular ICU beds, operating rooms, and other resources – and daily cross-department meetings – enabled them to proceed with the most urgent TAVR procedures while “keeping a buffer of ICU beds to accommodate an anticipated surge of COVID-19,” he explained.
Such adaptations in cardiac procedures and processes are occurring in hospitals across the country as efforts are made to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure for patients and staff. Dr. Batchelor is one of four cardiologists who shared their experiences and advice on common cardiac procedures across three locales: TAVR in Virginia, percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) in New York City, and atrial fibrillation (AFib) ablation in Kentucky.
More on TAVR in Virginia
Inova’s framework for triaging structural heart disease interventions (largely TAVR and/or percutaneous mitral valve repair) comprised three tiers. Tier 1 captured “emergent cases that had to be done, no questions asked,” Dr. Batchelor said. For TAVR, these were inpatients with severe to critical symptomatic aortic stenosis and advanced congestive heart failure who could not safely be discharged, as well as other patients “with refractory symptoms of heart failure that were compelling.” Many had associated left ventricular systolic dysfunction.
Those who could delay 14-30 days were placed in tier 2, and patients who “we felt were fairly stable and could wait at least 30 days” were placed in tier 3. “For TAVR, a tier 3 patient might be the one … who has severe aortic stenosis but is walking around and doing well at home with only stable exertional symptoms,” he said.
Patients whose procedures were delayed were contacted weekly by the valve clinic’s advanced practice practitioners through video visits or telephone calls, and tier categorization was reevaluated if symptoms worsened. “We had to keep in close contact with them,” Dr. Batchelor said. “These patients can deteriorate quite rapidly and sometimes without much warning.”
Virtual video visits were often used for 30-day postprocedural follow-ups, taking the place of in-person visits during which post-TAVR echocardiographic assessments would normally be performed. “For follow-up, we’d often just do a quick visit to check the vascular access site within 7-10 days, and then, if they were doing okay we’d delay the 30-day echo to a later time frame,” he said.
Preprocedural testing was streamlined to minimize the number of patient-provider interactions, with pulmonary function testing and pre-TAVR catheterization omitted unless absolutely necessary. “A TAVR CT angiogram [performed within the prior year] is the only test you really absolutely need,” Dr. Batchelor said. “We were much less likely to order a heart catheterization unless the patient was having angina and high risk or suspicion for significant coronary artery disease.”
This approach was not associated with any compromise in postprocedural outcomes, he noted. Prior to the pandemic, Inova routinely employed a minimalist approach to TAVR with moderate conscious sedation and avoiding transesophageal echocardiography – steps that were recommended for structural heart procedures in the COVID-19 era in a published review by the heart team at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
The New York review is useful for cardiologists in areas with rising case burdens of COVID-19, Dr. Batchelor said, as is a position statement he coauthored from the American College of Cardiology and the Society for Cardiology and Angiography Interventions (SCAI) on triage considerations for structural heart disease interventions during the pandemic.
TAVR’s resource-heavy nature made the “system capacity dashboard” and daily meetings critical, Dr. Batchelor explained. At one point during the hold on elective procedures, the Falls Church INOVA facility had approximately 300 patients with COVID-19, a significant proportion of whom were in cardiac ICU beds.
“Everyone has to be flexible and learn,” he said. “We trained our cardiologists on managing ventilators in case some of the [critical care] staff got ill or were overwhelmed by the surge.”
More than 2 months after the surge eased and the ban on elective surgery was lifted, Dr. Batchelor and his colleagues are still using the dashboard and continue to meet daily to discuss COVID-19 prevalence in the hospital and the community as they work through the backlog of delayed procedures. They also routinely review the status of COVID-19 testing for inpatients and outpatients and the donning and doffing of personal protective equipment.
“You have to communicate early and often across the whole system of care because you’re competing for the same resources,” he advised. “And you have to be flexible and reassess. A policy that works at the beginning of the pandemic might have to change.”