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Breakthrough in coronary heart disease diagnosis

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Posted by Richard Evans on 22nd June 2021

The purpose of the NHS Long Term Plan is to ensure that “As medicine advances, health needs change and society develops, the NHS has to continually move forward so that in 10 years’ time we have a service fit for the future”.

One of those long-term objectives is to reduce the number of potential heart attacks and strokes within the next 10 years by 150,000. Since coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, killing approximately 17.3 million people a year, it is crucial that any technological advances in this field are pursued with the utmost urgency and dedication.

HeartFlow, a Silicon Valley med-tech company, is at the cutting edge of such technology having developed a 3D heart scan which has been recommended by NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) and is now being rolled out across 40 NHS hospitals in England and Wales.

The technology works by taking a data capture during a CT scan of the heart and turning this into a 3D image which allows doctors to diagnose life-threatening coronary heart disease. Using deep learning techniques, the technology can home in on arterial blockages and accurately predict the impact on blood flow in those arteries. This can all be achieved in just over 20 minutes.

Previously, patients would have to be admitted to hospital for an invasive and time-consuming coronary angiogram. However, according to data from the American College of Cardiology, around 60% of coronary angiograms found no obstructive coronary heart disease. This suggests that the procedure is being overused which is a real problem considering the cost to the NHS and the risk of complications arising following surgery. Unnecessary surgical procedures can cause patients both physical and emotional stress, as well as financial hardship.

The company’s Chief Technology Officer reported “The HeartFlow Analysis has demonstrated higher diagnostic performance compared to other non-invasive cardiac tests and gives cardiologists a level of examination only otherwise possible through an invasive procedure. It can help physicians understand the impact of any blockages on blood flow to the heart and decide what action needs to be taken.”

NHS England has also been highly complementary of the HeartFlow Analysis, its Medical Director, Stephen Powis, said “The NHS Long Term Plan committed to cutting strokes, heart attacks and other major killers as well as ensuring patients would benefit from cutting edge therapies and techniques and HeartFlow is just the latest example of that. By rapidly improving the rate we diagnose and treat those with a heart condition we will save thousands of lives and ensure as well as delivering the most successful vaccination programme in health service history, the NHS is able to deliver routine services even quicker than before the pandemic”.

At an operational level, the benefits are being seen: Dr Derek Connolly, a Midlands-based Consultant Interventional Cardiologist stated: “For every five patients who have a cardiac CT and a HeartFlow Analysis, four patients go home knowing they don’t need anything else. Half of those patients will be on cholesterol tablets because they have early disease, and the other half will have normal coronary arteries. Incorporating the HeartFlow Analysis has had a meaningful impact at our hospitals, improving the diagnosis and treatment of the leading cause of death.”

It is estimated that 100,000 people in the UK will be eligible for HeartFlow Analysis over the next 3 years, and it will be interesting to monitor the effect that this has on patient care and waiting lists. It is too early to say whether HeartFlow will become the standard of care, but it may enable large numbers of patients to avoid invasive diagnostic tests.

At Wolferstans we recognise the adverse effects that unnecessary operations and procedures can have, and have an experienced team of medical negligence lawyers who can provide advice, help and support in respect of these issues.

Please telephone our Client Coordinator, Kady Kirk, on 01752 292360 or e-mail kkirk@wolferstans.com for a free consultation regarding your legal rights in pursuing a potential medical negligence claim.