BOSTON – Patients with atrial fibrillation who present to emergency departments, despite being asymptomatic, often go based on of their understanding of advice they had previously received from their physicians, according to results from a prospective study of 356 Canadian atrial arrhythmia patients seen in emergency settings.
One way to deal with potentially inappropriate emergency department use is to have concerned patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) record their heart rhythm data with a handheld device or watch, transfer the records to their smartphones, and transmit the information to a remote physician for interpretation and advice, Benedict M. Glover, MD, said at the annual International AF Symposium.
Dr. Glover and his associates are in the process of developing a prototype system of this design to address the need they identified in a recent registry of 356 patients with a primary diagnosis of AF who sought care in the emergency department (ED) of any of seven participating Canadian medical centers, including five academic centers and two community hospitals. The survey results showed that 71% of the patients were symptomatic and 29% were asymptomatic then they first presented to an emergency department.
Case reviews of the 356 patients showed that 152 (43%) came to the EDs for what were classified as inappropriate reasons. The most common cause by far of an inappropriate emergency presentation was prior medical advice the patient had received, cited in 62% of the inappropriate cases, compared with 9% of the appropriate cases, said Dr. Glover, an electrophysiologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.
The inappropriate ED use by AF patients could be addressed in at least two ways, he said. One solution might be to give patients an alternative destination, so that instead of going to an emergency department they could go to an outpatient AF clinic. A second solution is to give patients a way to have their heart rhythm assessed remotely at the time of their concern. Dr. Glover said that his center had the staff capacity to deal with the potential influx of rhythm data from a pilot-sized program of remote heart-rhythm monitoring, but he conceded that scaling up to deal with the data that could come from the entire panel of AF patients managed by Sunnybrook physicians would be a huge challenge.
“The issue is what do we do with the data after we get it,” Dr. Glover said. “It’s a lot of information.”
Dr. Glover had no disclosures.