Diseases of the heart and circulatory system are the leading cause of death in Europe and a major cause of disability. The risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease and stroke increase with age.
As Europe's population is ageing, preventing these conditions – and managing them efficiently when they occur – is essential to keeping people in good health while making efficient use of healthcare resources.
How technology helps
Blood tests can identify patients with high cholesterol who may be at elevated risk of heart attack; modern imaging devices are used to detect a narrowing of the arteries.
By intervening early, heart attacks and stroke can be avoided. This spares the individual the trauma of a life-threatening or life-changing event and reduces spending on hospitalisation and ongoing care.
Modern medical technologies enable minimally-invasive surgery. These advances continually improve outcomes for patients and help them to recover more quickly.
Coronary heart disease
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is caused by a build-up of fats such as cholesterol in the arteries of the heart. This build-up can cause arteries to narrow, restricting the flow of blood and sometimes depriving the heart of oxygen.
CHD kills around 681,000 Europeans per year and is a major cause of disability. This eats up €60 billion in healthcare costs. In addition, CVD causes productivity losses and can incur indirect costs associated with informal care at home by family members.
Fortunately, the human, social and economic impact of cases of CHD can be reduced. Advances in medical technology facilitate surgical procedures which bypass the narrowed artery by grafting a blood vessel from elsewhere in the body. This allows blood flow to take a new, unobstructed route.
Arteries can also be reopened using angioplasty and stenting. A ‘balloon catheter’ can be inserted into the narrowed section of the artery and then extended to widen the vessel. A small ‘stent’ can be inserted to hold the artery open.
Stenting technology has evolved since the first stent was inserted in the 1980s, making them stronger and lighter. Some stents also release a drug to prevent further complications.
The right treatments for the right patients
For many patients, bypass surgery and angioplasty are life-saving treatments. For others, medication and/or lifestyle changes could be considered. Modern diagnostic tools allow doctors to assess fractional flow reserve (FFR) during a routine heart scan. This technique shows the severity of the narrowing of the arteries and helps healthcare professionals to identify patients who could benefit most from stenting.
This test enables doctors to save lives by selecting the optimal treatment for each patient, reducing their risk of heart attack. For society, FFR keeps people healthy longer and makes health systems more efficient by getting stents to those who need them most. FFR has been shown to reduce healthcare costs in Germany, France, Italy and the UK.
You rely on your heart to pump blood around your body but when it fails, you are in trouble. The number of people suffering heart failure is on the rise as we are living longer. It will hit one in five adults over 40 years of age during their lifetime – around 6.5 million people in Europe.
Heart failure is everyone’s problem. Between 1% and 2% of health budgets are spent on heart failure, more than half of which is gobbled up by the cost of hospitalisation.
One way to help your heart to pump blood around your body at the right rate is by inserting a small cardiac implantable electronic device (CIED). These life-saving devices – which include pacemakers and defibrillators – are of particular importance for people with chronic heart failure.
They deliver tiny electric pulses that help to control irregular heartbeats. In short, CIEDs keep people alive.
Remote 24-hour monitoring
According to medical guidelines, patients with pacemakers should be followed up every three to 12 months and those with a cardiac defibrillator need to be checked every three to six months.
For patients, this means regular visits to the clinic for routine check-ups and, if their symptoms worsen in between appointments, it can require emergency care.
The new generation of pacemakers automatically sends information wirelessly so that doctors can securely check patients’ hearts from anywhere at any time. If there is a problem, they can intervene without waiting until the next scheduled appointment – by which time the patient’s condition may have worsened further.
This can save lives, as well as hospital resources, time and money. Remote monitoring would have seemed like science fiction in the 20th century but in a world of smart phones and smart TVs, smarter medical devices are a natural step forward.
Continued MedTech innovation is essential if Europe is to rise to the challenge posed by increasing rates of cardiovascular conditions. The sector is working on new technologies – and on refining existing products – to improve outcomes for patients so that they can live long, healthy and productive lives.