Dr. Michael Mathier from the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute discusses what you can expect when you come in for care at the Heart and Vascular Institute as well as the signs and symptoms related to cardiovascular disease that you should not ignore.
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-This podcast is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not medical care or advice. Clinicians should rely on their own medical judgments when advising their patients. Patients in need of medical care should consult their personal care provider.
– Taking care of your heart in the middle of COVID-19. Hi, I’m Tonia Caruso. Welcome to the UPMC HealthBeat Podcast. And joining us right now is Dr. Michael Mathier from the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. Doctor, thanks so much for joining us.
– My pleasure.
– So the Heart and Vascular Institute really is known for world-class care, and you really treat patients of all ages.
– That’s correct. We see patients from birth to old age. You know, we see all sorts of cardiac disease, from very common issues like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, to the most complicated congenital heart defects and really advanced issues, including patients who need heart transplant or other new procedures.
– Right, and I know that patients from around the country, sometimes from around the world, come to the Heart and Vascular Institute for care. But as COVID-19 began to emerge, you had to make some changes and for a time, step things back a bit.
– Yeah, we did. There were two main issues that we had to address. The first was because we didn’t know how big the surge of cases were going to be in our hospitals. We needed to make sure we had the capacity to take care of those potential patients. And secondly, we needed to respect guidelines in respect to social distancing, so that we could not have crowded waiting rooms and other areas of the hospital. And so we made a decision, a difficult decision, to try to decrease the number of interactions that we had with our patients that were not really urgent and could be safely postponed.
– And so among those cases that were postponed, and among the urgent ones, we’re now at a point now where we’re saying folks need to come back and should come back for care. And why and how is that?
– Yeah, that’s a critical point. We know that cardiovascular disease needs to be managed and needs to be managed in an ongoing way. And so while we could safely postpone interactions with a number of our patients, we could not do so indefinitely. We need to see our patients, we need to make sure that they’re on the proper therapy, that their symptoms are under good control, that we’re not picking up any evidence that things are becoming unstable. And so now is the time for us to start seeing them again.
– And specifically, are there some cases or some patients that you’ve said, stay away before, but now you think they do need to come? Can you give folks an example of a condition that they might have that they should be coming back in for treatment?
– Absolutely. Really, almost all of our types of patients we need to see, and we need to start seeing again now. I, for instance, am a heart failure specialist, and I take care of patients with congestive heart failure. That’s a chronic condition that needs to be managed carefully. And while I did postpone a number of my patients, I am now starting to see them again and make sure that they’re continuing to do well with their condition.
– Can we give patients a sense of the protocol and what it will be like now to come into the hospital or to a doctor’s office for an appointment? You don’t just show up anymore, correct?
– Yeah, that’s correct. We still need to make sure that everybody’s safe. That includes our patients, our staff, everybody who works in our facilities, and we’re trying to make sure that we are doing the right kind of encounters with all of our patients. What I mean by that is that some patients can still be seen through video links that work reasonably well. And others we need to see face to face because their condition might be more complex and the physical examination might be important. When patients come in, they’ll notice that they get screened at the door to our facilities. We ask them questions; usually, we’ll check a temperature. We have a universal masking policy. We ask everybody to maintain good social distancing practices and to practice frequent handwashing. With those measures, we feel confident that we can continue the important cardiovascular care of our patients while keeping everybody involved safe.
– So those screening measures in place for anyone who comes through the door. At the same time, if someone does need a procedure, is testing for COVID-19 available before that procedure takes place?
– Yes, it is. UPMC has a policy now for every patient undergoing a surgery or procedure. They are offered pre-procedural COVID testing. We contact them four to five days before their scheduled procedure. We offer them the testing. If they decide to have it, then they get it done and we get a result done well before the procedure is scheduled. If the patient is negative, then we proceed as usual. If by chance the patient is positive, that would typically be an asymptomatic positive. We usually will counsel the patient to delay the procedure if it’s safe to do so.
– And even for folks coming through the door, if I come through the door and you take my temperature and I have a fever, what happens then?
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The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine.