Treatment plan may increase cardiac survival and reduce stroke risk

By Jamie Salter

Treatment effectiveness, health care costs and quality of life outcomes for the two to four per cent of Australians with the heart condition atrial fibrillation could be markedly improved under a new research project now under way in western Sydney.

Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia in which the heart beats irregularly and often fast, reducing its ability to pump blood properly and increasing the chance of a blood clot forming in the heart and travelling to the brain, where it can cause a stroke.

Thanks to the research project, patients with atrial fibrillation will get better support and follow-up after they leave hospital, reducing their risk of repeat hospitalisation, stroke and congestive heart failure.

The project will use a successful engagement tool used in the United States to improve patient engagement and adherence to immunisation and medications, adapting it to provide personalised management and support to atrial fibrillation patients who have a wide variety of healthcare needs.

The project will also customise the tool to suit the Australian health system.

The tool will use digital outreach methods to improve patients’ medical and lifestyle management, monitor symptoms and identify any potential complications of atrial fibrillation, so these can be addressed early.

The project is a collaboration between the University of Sydney’s Westmead Applied Research Centre, industry partner HMS and the Australian Government-funded Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre.

DHCRC director of research Tim Shaw said when looking at international models, it was important to adapt to local conditions and find the most effective way to use them, before introducing them Australia-wide.

“This project will build evidence around how digital technologies can support patient care so that health systems can use this kind of program around Australia to better support, monitor and treat atrial fibrillation patients, lowering costs, improving health outcomes and reducing the rate of debilitating stroke,” he said.

Project lead Clara Chow is a Professor of Medicine and Academic Director of the University of Sydney’s Westmead Applied Research Centre.

She said atrial fibrillation was increasingly common and a leading cause of stroke.

“A number of studies have also demonstrated atrial fibrillation patients miss out on important treatments that are indicated by guidelines.

“The engagement tool uses multiple digital contact methods including SMS, emails and interactive voice response technology which simulates a person-to-person call and reacts in real time to the responses patients provide — it is much more than just yes or no.

“These tools can help guide patients to appropriate follow-up visits, relevant health information and ask questions if issues arise.

“These systems could allow us to develop a safe, scalable, cost-effective outreach program for atrial fibrillation patients, which down the track we can then translate to other chronic diseases as well.”