Inequities in the initial growth of transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) programs in American hospitals has led to less use of the transformative procedure in poorer communities, a new cross-sectional study suggests.
Using Medicare claims data, investigators identified 554 new TAVR programs created between January 2012 and December 2018.
Of these, 98% were established in metropolitan areas (>50,000 residents) and 53% were started in areas with preexisting TAVR programs, “thereby increasing the number of programs but not necessarily increasing the geographic availability of the procedure,” said study author Ashwin Nathan, MD, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
Only 11 programs were started in nonmetropolitan areas over the study period, he noted during the featured clinical research presentation at the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI) 2021 annual scientific sessions, held virtually this year.
Hospitals that established TAVR programs, compared with those that did not, cared for patients with higher median household incomes (difference, $1,305; P = .03) and from areas with better economic well-being based on the Distressed Communities Index (difference, –3.15 units; P < .01), and cared for fewer patients with dual eligibility for Medicaid (difference, –3.15%; P < .01).
When the investigators looked at rates of TAVR between the core-based statistical areas, there were fewer TAVR procedures per 100,000 Medicare beneficiaries in areas with more Medicaid dual-eligible patients (difference, –1.19% per 1% increase), lower average median household incomes (difference, –0.62% per $1,000 decrease), and more average community distress (difference, –0.35% per 1 unit increase; P < .01 for all).
“What we can conclude is that the increased number of TAVR programs that we found during the study period did not necessarily translate to increased access to TAVR ... Wealthy, more privileged patients had more access to TAVR by virtue of the hospitals that serve them,” Dr. Nathan said.
Future steps, he said, are to identify the role of race and ethnicity in inequitable access to TAVR, identify system- and patient-level barriers to access, and to develop and test solutions to address inequitable care.
Elaborating on the latter point during a discussion of the results, study coauthor Jay S. Giri, MD, MPH, also from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, observed that although the data showed rural areas are left behind, not every part of an urban area acts like the area more generally.
As a result, they’re delving into the 25 largest urban areas and trying to disaggregate, based on both socioeconomic status and race within the area, whether inequities exist, he said. “Believe it or not, in some urban areas where there clearly is access – there might even be a dozen TAVR programs within a 25 mile radius – do some of those areas still act like rural areas that don’t have access? So more to come on that.”
Session comoderator Steven Yakubov, MD, MidWest Cardiology Research Foundation in Columbus, Ohio, said the results show TAVR programs tend to be developed in well-served areas but asked whether some of the responsibility falls on patients to seek medical attention. “Do we just not give enough education to patients on how to access care?”
Dr. Giri responded by highlighting the complexity of navigating from even being diagnosed with aortic stenosis to making it through a multidisciplinary TAVR evaluation.
“Individuals with increased health literacy and more means are more likely to make it through that gauntlet. But from a public health perspective, obviously, I’d argue that the onus is probably more on the medical community at large to figure out how to roll these programs out more widespread,” he said.
“It looked to us like market forces overwhelmingly seemed to drive the development of new TAVR programs over access to care considerations,” Dr. Giri added. “And just to point out, those market forces aren’t at the level of the device manufacturers, who are often maligned for cost. This is really about the market forces at the level of hospitals and health systems.”
Session comoderator Megan Coylewright, MD, MPH, Erlanger Heart and Lung Institute, Chattanooga, Tenn., said, “I think that’s really well stated,” and noted that physicians may bear some responsibility as well.
“From a physician responsibility, especially for structural heart, we tended to all aggregate together, all of us that have structural heart training or that have trained in certain institutions,” she said. “It’s certainly on us to continue to spread out and go to the communities in need to ensure access. I think, as Dr. Giri said, there are a lot of solutions and that needs to be the focus for the next couple of years.”
Dr. Nathan reported having no relevant disclosures. Dr. Giri reported serving as a principal investigator for a research study for Boston Scientific, Inari Medical, Abbott, and Recor Medical; consulting for Boston Scientific; and serving on an advisory board for Inari Medical.
A version of this article first appeared on.