The Big Number: During pandemic, heart surgeries plummeted by 53 percent

By Linda Searing,

Heart surgeries among U.S. adults dropped by a dramatic 53 percent in the past year, a reduction that cardiac surgeons say was caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The number comes from an analysis of national data through the end of 2020 and included information on 717,103 heart surgery patients and more than 20 million covid-19 patients. The finding was presented at a January meeting of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. The analysis found that adult cardiac surgery volume fell by more than half nationwide, to roughly 12,000 surgeries a month on average. The decline included 65 percent fewer elective surgeries and 40 percent fewer nonelective surgeries, with all types of heart operations experiencing a decline, including coronary artery bypass grafting, aortic or mitral valve replacement, a combination or something else. Hot spots of decline included regions where covid-19 was most severe early on. For instance, the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania area had a 71 percent drop in heart surgery volume from 2019 to 2020, and New England states (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island) had 61 percent fewer heart surgeries. Probable causes of the decline were a combination of pandemic-related factors, including hospitals becoming overwhelmed by covid-19 patients and canceling elective procedures and people fearing exposure to covid-19 and postponing or avoiding medical visits and procedures.

— Linda Searing

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