'We have to overcome inertia': Emory Heart and Vascular Institute's Dr. Angel Leon on today's priorities in cardiology

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To move the needle on innovative treatment approaches within cardiology, the field must avoid over reliance on traditional approaches, says Angel Leon, MD, co-director of Atlanta-based Emory Heart and Vascular Institute. 

Dr. Leon recently joined Becker's Healthcare cardiology podcast to discuss the innovative strides made in the field, and priorities moving forward. 

Here is an excerpt from the podcast. Click here to download the full episode. 

Editor's note: This response was lightly edited for length and clarity 

Q: What are your top priorities right now?

Dr. Angel Leon: The first thing I want to stress is the need to continue to encourage innovation and the use of technology to expand our knowledge and improve how we take care of our patients. I have been a witness to tremendous strides in drug and device development over the past 30 years, and then some even in the last year. 

If we really look at where cardiology has gone during the past 15, 20, 30 years, we've seen innovation and technology that has really run the gamut. The development of drugs like statins have contributed greatly to the drop in the death rate from coronary disease in the U.S. — that has been a tremendous innovation. We look at valve replacement, which has evolved from a very complex open heart, open chest operation to transcatheter valve techniques that have completely changed how we approach patients with valve or heart disease.

We've seen the development of cardiac defibrillators that rescue people who would otherwise die. We've seen widespread use of these devices that impact sudden death, and then we start looking at some of the indwelling and implantable monitoring technology assist devices. I see one of the biggest issues as 'How do we harness this knowledge and this technology in the appropriate way to really take care of our patients?' 

One of the most amazing things I've seen in medicine in the last 12 months, outside of cardiology, is the COVID-19 SARS virus, and the vaccine technology to counteract it gives us a great example of how technology can help us. Within one week of having the genome of the virus map, pharmaceutical industries came up with a vaccine. They had to put it through clinical trials, but to come up with a vaccine one week after the genome was identified was incredible. 

Those are examples of how innovation and technology can really help us in our medical practice. I believe we have to overcome inertia. We have to overcome over-reliance on traditional approaches that we have used, some of which really weren't based on data or evidence. We need to move away from those approaches and embrace technologies and clinical trials to really look at the impact of how we practice and how we can deliver the best care in treating heart disease. In an environment with limited resources, we have to extract maximum benefit. We have to try to reduce or eliminate waste and harm. I think innovation and education are extremely important in that. Innovation and education are what I see as our top priorities in cardiology and healthcare. 

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