Canadians suffering from heart disease and stroke are facing delays in diagnosis and treatment due to the ongoing disruptive impacts of the pandemic on Canada’s health care system, according to a new survey of health care professionals and researchers.
The national survey, sponsored by the Heart & Stroke Foundation and released Oct. 19, found that 9 out of 10 medical professionals and researchers worried that the health of people living with heart disease or stroke has worsened because needed medical care was not always available during the pandemic.
Eight of out 10 respondents say that their greatest concern is a delay in diagnosis and treatment while over half expected that mental health issues stemming from the pandemic “are going to be significant.”
The study surveyed a total of 370 health professionals—including heart and brain health researchers, neurologists, cardiologists, family physicians, emergency physicians, and nurses—between Aug. 16 to Sept. 7.
“Earlier in the pandemic I had multiple shifts in the emergency department where I didn’t see any heart and stroke patients and I wondered, ‘where are you?’ It was like they disappeared,” said Clare Atzema, a Heart & Stroke funded researcher and an emergency medicine physician at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, in a news release.
“But those patients needed care, they needed to be seen. Now I am afraid we are going to see a wave of patients who are going to need both more care and more intense care, and we will need new research to figure out how we manage these diseases better.”
An earlier survey carried out by the foundation found that heart and stroke patients are increasingly seeking out virtual healthcare, with over 8 in 10 people living with a heart condition, stroke, or vascular cognitive impairment, reported making a virtual appointment.
The latest survey also found that the COVID-19 pandemic is posing significant challenges for heart and brain health research, including slowing or stopping ongoing trials.
Going forward, respondents identified three major challenges facing Canada’s healthcare system: exhausted healthcare providers, longer wait times for appointments and procedures, and an increasing number of patients.
Health professionals and researchers who participated in the survey say they expect “substantial” changes to their work in the future, with support for heart and stroke patients through rehabilitation and community services a key area of focus.
Heart disease and stroke are the top cause of death globally and are two out of the three leading causes of death in Canada. Roughly 1.6 million people in Canada currently are living with heart disease or stroke, according to Heart & Stroke.