DALLAS, June 17, 2021 – Under-resourced populations have a disproportionately higher incidence of chronic and debilitating conditions, including cardiovascular disease. Conventional access to specialist care for cardiovascular disease can be expensive, geographically limited, and even completely unavailable to communities that need it the most, yet health consultations that include cardiovascular considerations can improve life expectancy without extra costs. To address this need, the American Heart Association is developing a new initiative that seeks to promote access to cardiology care for under-resourced communities. Doctors With Heart connects clinicians at participating health centers with American Heart Association volunteer cardiologists using a telemedicine platform.
As the world’s leading voluntary health organization dedicated to building longer, healthier lives for everyone everywhere, the American Heart Association is establishing the Doctors With Heart program as part of a larger aim to use technology to help improve disparities in health care. Doctors With Heart connects American Heart Association volunteer cardiologists to clinicians in participating community health centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) at no cost.
Digital technology and telehealth advances make this program possible: clinicians in participating health centers who have under-insured and uninsured heart disease patients can access Doctors With Heart and consult with an American Heart Association volunteer cardiologist. After the consultation, the clinician discusses with the patient any changes in treatment or plan of care.
The program was envisioned by the American Heart Association Center for Health Technology & Innovation (the Center), which is focused on building and fostering health technology relationships to develop innovative and scalable solutions.
The American Heart Association’s 33,000-strong professional volunteer membership includes an array of cardiologists who are donating their time to provide consultative services to under-resourced groups.
Ann Marie Navar, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiologist at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas and American Heart Association volunteer, is a key member of the Center’s volunteer Health Tech Advisory Group and was central to the early days of the program. Navar helped conceptualize Doctors With Heart based on an informal consultation system she had with clinicians including her parents, who are volunteer health care professionals at a community health center that provides free medical care to the uninsured and under-insured of South Texas.
“Over the last several years, clinicians would call me for cardiology advice,” said Navar. “I knew I wasn’t the only cardiologist willing to share my time, but we needed a way to better provide these consultations at scale, and a technology platform that would enable it.”
Doctors With Heart has already successfully provided consultations for patients at three health centers across the U.S. in a 2020-2021 pilot program. Funding for the pilot program was provided by the Aetna Foundation, an independent, charitable and philanthropic affiliate of CVS Health. CVS Health also supports the American Heart Association as national presenting sponsor of Go Red for Women®.
Success stories from that pilot are already rolling in, like this one: A primary care physician in Texas knew his patient with heart failure needed a cardiologist, but the patient had significant barriers to getting the expertise and treatment he desperately needed. The physician reached out via the program to American Heart Association volunteer cardiologist John Osborne, CEO, State of the Heart Cardiology in Grapevine, Texas, for consultation. The physician and cardiologist consulted digitally on the Doctors With Heart platform and collaborated to create a treatment plan that is expected to be highly successful. “With the plans we have in place for this patient, you’re going to add years to his life, and he’s going to feel so much better.” said Osborne.
“Doctors With Heart contributes uniquely to the Association’s focus on health equity,” said Eric Peterson, M.D., M.P.H., Vice Provost and Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Research at University of Texas Southwestern and American Heart Association volunteer chair of the Health Tech Advisory Group for the Center. “Every person deserves the opportunity for a full, healthy life, and our dedication to identifying and removing barriers to health care helps us define a future where intelligent, digital health solutions enable scalable and affordable access to care for patients.”