Cardiac patients in Australia are being offered an innovative surgical procedure that is both life-saving and significantly less invasive than traditional heart surgery.
Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI) is a relatively new procedure that allows cardiothoracic surgeons and their teams to insert an artificial aortic valve into a patient’s heart without having to access the organ via open heart surgery.
The technique, referred to as “set and forget” is available to patients in both the public and private health systems in Australia. While there are more public hospitals practising TAVI than private institutions, some concern has been expressed by cardiac surgeons about the structure of specialist teams carrying out TAVI operations for patients that do not have private health insurance.
This procedure is used to treat patients with problems with their aortic valve, which puts strain on the cardiovascular system and has a causes a number of health problems, such as difficulty breathing.
Aortic Valve Implantations performed with this method are of particular significance for patients whose health is considered too high-risk for traditional heart surgery, such as elderly people suffering from degenerative aortic stenosis, a fairly common, but life-threatening condition.
TAVI can be performed while the patient is awake, without the use of general anaesthetic, and is much less physically invasive than open heart surgery.
TAVI is a a life-saving development for many patients, promising to not only reduce the physical stress of long, surgical procedures, but to make aortic valve implants accessible to patients otherwise be unable to be treated surgically.
The procedure is less invasive, with no surgical cuts required, meaning it not only reduces time in surgery, but it also has a much faster recovery period.
Using a catheter, cardiac specialists and surgeons are able to insert artificial heart valves into one of the patient’s arteries – usually in the groin – meaning that it avoids the invasive surgery of a chest incision.
Patients have reported very fast recovery times, especially in comparison to more convention approaches to surgically entering the heart. Rather than weeks or months of recovery, many patients report feeling healthier and stronger within days of the surgery.
This technique has been practised in several Australian public hospitals, but only one private hospital. There has been some criticism from cardiac specialists that the public health system is not adequately staffed, with surgeons arguing that the procedure should require the professional expertise of both a cardiologist and a surgeon to ensure patient safety and prevent potentially life-threatening complications.
While there remains some debate regarding this claim from surgeons, patients that have private health insurance are able to choose which system they wish to be treated under, whereas patients in the public system are simply treated by the medical teams available. Patients with private healthcare are able to opt for their choice of hospital and specialists.