Before COVID-19 hit, there were around 11 million people across Europe living with atrial fibrillation (AF). As many as one in four people over the age of 40 will develop AF, which is characterised by an irregular and often fast heart rhythm. It is a chronic condition that severely affects a person’s quality of life, and more than doubles an AF patient’s likelihood of suffering from a stroke.
Unlike stroke, the symptoms of AF are less-well known and more difficult to identify, often going undiagnosed, with up to 30% of patients not experiencing any symptoms. With almost 900,000 new diagnoses each year, AF is a serious and growing health problem.
This week is World Heart Rhythm Week (WHRW2020), led by Arrhythmia Alliance and the message this year, is simple: ‘Don’t Miss A Beat’. As with all heart conditions, prevention and early diagnosis should be the priority.Sadly, with the onset of COVID-19, access to diagnosis and treatments for many conditions has been delayed or reduced. Meaning many AF patients are going undetected and untreated for longer.
However, as lockdown measures begin to lift and healthcare systems reopen, many hospitals will be looking at how they can address the growing number of patients – is unlocking efficiency the answer?
Treating more patients by improving efficiency
Before the pandemic, some healthcare systems across Europe were already feeling the pressure; long waiting lists, shortages in capacity, aging populations and a reduction in government spending. Some of these pressures have now intensified following the pandemic.
Strategic partnerships between the medical technology industry and healthcare organisations may enable hospitals to identify and embed long-lasting efficiencies in how AF patients are treated.
The immediate challenge for AF patients and electrophysiologists is time. With AF, time is everything. Patients who were waiting for a diagnosis or treatment at the beginning of the year are still waiting. Early detection, diagnosis and treatment of AF may help improve patient outcomes, since long history and duration of AF have been associated with recurrence. 1 in 5 patients with paroxysmal AF will develop persistent AF within 1 year. Alternatively,if treated with catheter ablation (compared to Anti-arrhythmic drugs), are almost 10 times less likely to progress to persistent AF.
One way to expand access is to optimise the patient and procedure flow; standardising appointments, enhancing patient education, conducting remote screening and standardised procedural workflows. Just some areas which present an opportunity to create efficiency.
AF education to patients and the wider healthcare community is critical to help increase awareness of the condition, common symptoms and the importance of treatment, which can contribute to earlier patient diagnosis and treatment.
Results can be significant, with hospitals being able to treat more AF patients, in an efficient manner. One recent partnership, which redesigned the patient and procedure flows experienced:
- A reduction in patient waiting time by approximately two months
- Procedure time for catheter ablation in the EP lab reduced by 26%
- Unutilised time in the EP lab reduced from 25% – 10%
As we move into a new era of healthcare, we must continue to focus on tackling and reducing the burden of AF. If we don’t take action, we risk a 70% increase in people with AF by 2030. We mustn’t miss a beat!