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ASE Issues Echocardiography Guidance Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

The American Society of Echocardiography (ASE) has issued a statement on protecting patients and echocardiography service providers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given the risk for cardiovascular complications associated with COVID-19, echocardiographic services will likely be needed for patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, meaning echo providers will be exposed to SARS-CoV-2, write the statement authors, led by James N. Kirkpatrick, MD, director of the echocardiography laboratory at University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.

The statement was published online April 6 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The authors say the statement is intended to help guide the practice of echocardiography in this “challenging time.” It was developed with input from a variety of echocardiography providers and institutions who have experience with the COVID-19, or have been “actively and thoughtfully preparing for it.”

Who, When, Where, and How

The statement covers triaging and decision pathways for handling requests for echocardiography, as well as indications and recommended procedures, in cases of suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

Among the recommendations:

  • Only perform transthoracic echocardiograms (TTE), stress echocardiograms, and transesophageal echocardiograms (TEE) if they are expected to provide clinical benefit. Appropriate-use criteria represent the first decision point as to whether an echocardiographic test should be performed.

  • Determine which studies are “elective” and reschedule them, performing all others. Identify “nonelective” (urgent/emergent) indications and defer all others.

  • Determine the clinical benefit of echocardiography for symptomatic patients whose SARS-CoV-2 status is unknown.

  • Cautiously consider the benefit of a TEE examination weighed against the risk for exposure of healthcare personnel to aerosolization in a patient with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

  • Postpone or cancel TEEs if an alternative imaging modality can provide the necessary information.

  • Note that treadmill or bicycle stress echo tests in patients with COVID-19 may lead to exposure because of deep breathing and/or coughing during exercise. These tests should generally be deferred or converted to a pharmacologic stress echo.

The ASE statement also provides advice on safe imaging protocol and adequate personal protection measures.

“In addition to limiting the number of echocardiography practitioners involved in scanning, consideration should be given to limiting the exposure of staff who may be particularly susceptible to severe complications of COVID-19,” the ASE advises.

Staff who are older than 60 years, who have chronic conditions, are immunocompromised or are pregnant may wish to avoid contact with patients suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19.

It’s also important to realize the risk for transmission in reading rooms. “Keyboards, monitors, mice, chairs, phones, desktops, and door knobs should be frequently cleaned, and ventilation provided wherever possible,” the ASE advises. When the echo lab reading room is located in a high-traffic area, remote review of images or via webinar might be advisable, they suggest.

Summing up, Kirkland and colleagues say providing echocardiographic service “remains crucial in this difficult time of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. Working together, we can continue to provide high-quality care while minimizing risk to ourselves, our patients, and the public at large. Carefully considering ‘Whom to Image’, ‘Where to Image’ and ‘How to Image’ has the potential to reduce the risks of transmission.”

The authors note that the statements and recommendations are primarily based on expert opinion rather than on scientifically verified data and are subject to change as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to evolve and new data emerges.

J Am Coll Cardiol. Published online April 6, 2020. Full text

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