Temple cardiologists develop virtual, less invasive way to diagnose pulmonary hypertension

An image of the heart during a transesophageal ultrasound. Photo credit faustasyan/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Doctors all over are finding new ways to treat patients virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Temple University Hospital physicians are no exception.

They’re using a new, virtual method to diagnose pulmonary hypertension, which is routinely diagnosed during a heart catheterization.

Dr. Anjali Vaidya, co-director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Program, said the minimally invasive method is known as the virtual echocardiography screening tool, or VEST.

“It's a simple way to use information that is routinely reported on echocardiograms, which are noninvasive ultrasound pictures of the heart,” she said. “This helps predict which category of pulmonary hypertension the patient has.”

Determining which type of pulmonary hypertension the patient has is critical, Vaidya said, because treatments are different. It's also important to reduce a heart patient's medical risk, especially during a pandemic.

“Patients with pulmonary hypertension are at a higher risk of severe disease from COVID-19 because they tend to have underlying heart and lung disease,” she added. “The patient and their doctors know they should be particularly vigilant about minimizing any unnecessary exposures.”

According to Temple researchers, VEST effectively distinguishes between the two most common types of pulmonary hypertension: heart disease and pulmonary arterial hypertension. A delay in the diagnosis of the latter can greatly impact a patient’s survival rate.

Telemedicine has been used extensively during the pandemic, and Vaidya expects it will remain a key part of care in years to come as they research the long-term effects of the condition.

“VEST makes early recognition of the condition possible, allowing patients to receive more timely referral for appropriate evaluation,” she added in a statement. “The fact that this can be done remotely during virtual telemedicine visits is especially relevant in the COVID-19 era.”