American Heart Association program to improve in-hospital atrial fibrillation care

AF is a quivering or irregular heartbeat affecting about 2.7 million Americans, and accounts for about one-third of hospitalizations for heart rhythm disturbance. The heart normally contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart, called the atria, beat irregularly instead of beating effectively to move blood into the ventricles. AF is associated with a five-fold increased stroke risk, as well as a greater likelihood stroke will lead to significant disability — even death.

“While scientifically proven therapies and approaches to treatment exist for patients with atrial fibrillation, wide gaps, variations and disparities remain in the quality of care for people with this common heart rhythm disorder,” said Lee H. Schwamm, M.D., chair of the Get With The Guidelines National Steering Committee and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “By improving the care of patients with atrial fibrillation through the Get With The Guidelines program, we can save lives and prevent serious complications, such as stroke.”

The Get With The Guidelines-Atrial Fibrillation program will provide healthcare professionals a quality improvement blueprint for how best to care for AF patients, as well as a system for collecting valuable data. The data gives participating hospitals feedback on their practice and patient outcomes and can be used to develop new evidence-based guidelines for in-hospital care for AF patients.

“Our Get With The Guidelines suite is the ideal home for a nationwide atrial fibrillation quality improvement module, because participation in these programs has proven to make a difference in the quality of care and outcomes for patients with heart disease and stroke,” Schwamm said. “In the last decade, numerous scientific studies have shown Get With The Guidelines participating hospitals are more likely to adhere to national guideline-recommended therapies than other U.S. hospitals.”

Get With The Guidelines is the largest national hospital-based program dedicated to quality of care improvement for patients with cardiovascular disease, including targeted initiatives in stroke, heart failure and resuscitation. More than 42 percent of U.S. hospitals participate in the quality initiative, which has a database of nearly 5.5 million patient records.

Enrollment in the new module should begin within the next year.

A recent survey conducted by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association found that about half of the patients who have AF have not been properly educated about their stroke risk. Along with the new Get With The Guidelines-Atrial Fibrillation program, the association equips healthcare providers with resources to help them educate patients on the condition of atrial fibrillation and the link to stroke risk. Additionally, the 2011 Annual Impact Report and infographic poster illustrate the breadth of the problem and how the organization is working to close gaps in knowledge, understanding and treatment among healthcare providers and patients.

Boehringer Ingelheim will provide funding to support the American Heart Association’s GWTG-Atrial Fibrillation program.

To learn more about Get With The Guidelines, visit www.heart.org/quality . To learn more about atrial fibrillation, visit www.heart.org/Afib.