The Impact of COVID-19 on Heart Health — Plus One Way Employers Can Help

Not too long after the pandemic started, we learned COVID-19 tends to be much more severe for individuals who have cardiovascular disease than for those who don’t. This occurs for two main reasons.

First, when someone’s heart muscle is impaired or their heart arteries obstructed, the heart — and thus the body — are less able to fight off illness. This vital organ is already under stress, and the virus makes it worse. Secondly, many people with heart disease also have metabolic diseases like obesity or Type 2 diabetes, conditions that can intensify the effects of COVID-19 and increase the risk of complications.

Unfortunately, when COVID-19 finally leaves a person’s system, they’re not necessarily “in the clear” heart-wise. Because in addition to pre-existing heart conditions having the potential to worsen symptoms, this virus can also cause heart damage — even in those who had a perfectly healthy heart prior to contracting the virus.

Many of those who experience advanced COVID-19 disease develop inflammation of their heart muscle called myocarditis. This makes the organ larger and weaker, which can cause low blood pressure and increased presence of fluid in the lungs. Researchers found that 78% of COVID-19 patients had abnormal cardiac imaging results and 60% experienced ongoing myocarditis. This is quite concerning, as heart inflammation can increase the possibility of a future heart attack.

In short, COVID-19 is further exacerbating an already dire public health issue. Even before the pandemic, the number one cause of death in the United States was heart disease, with more than 650,000 people succumbing to it annually. And of the 805,000 Americans who have a heart attack each year, 75% are experiencing their very first one — meaning this problem isn’t slowing down any time soon.

Employers can play an important role in helping their workforce manage their heart health. One step they can take is providing employees with a tool to manage their hypertension (high blood pressure) — a major cause of heart disease and one of the top drivers of healthcare costs — like our ecosystem partner Hello Heart, a digital program that helps individuals understand and improve their heart health using AI-technology.

Tools like these are incredibly useful. For example, COVID-19 had an indirect impact on the survival rate of people who experienced a severe heart attack. A study found that, during the first several weeks of the pandemic, the risk of dying from a heart attack increased by more than double, likely because many patients were extremely hesitant about going to the hospital during a pandemic. For many of these cases, remote monitoring may have made a big difference, as the member’s doctor could have kept an eye on the patient’s heart health from afar.

In a recent white paper, Employer Health Innovation Roundtable (EHIR) and our partners at Hello Heart surveyed 100 benefits executives from 68 self-insured Fortune 500 companies and found that 83% believe that remote patient monitoring tools (like Hello Heart) are here to stay — and 65% say utilization of these tools will likely increase post-pandemic.

When it comes to remote patient monitoring tools in general, the executives surveyed prioritized the following four characteristics:

  • Integrated in vendor ecosystem: Engagement for all health benefits programs increases when digital tools connect seamlessly with the employer’s other existing vendor partners and care systems.
  • Best-in-class outcomes: Exceptional and reliable clinical outcomes are necessary to decrease employer costs and improve patient health.
  • Doctor agnostic: The tool should enable the member to send clinical readings and other information directly to their physician.
  • Accessibility to all members: Every single employee, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and so forth should be able to easily access and use the tool.

COVID-19 has once again highlighted just how widespread issues with heart health are. Digital tools that help people keep track of their heart health and easily interact with their doctor can go a very long way.