Digital solution holds hope for atrial fibrillation outcomes
A research project underway in western Sydney could see marked improvements for patients with atrial fibrillation (AF).
The project — a collaboration between the University of Sydney’s Westmead Applied Research Centre (WARC), industry partner HMS and the Australian Government-funded Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre (DHCRC) — is looking to improve treatment effectiveness, healthcare costs and quality of life outcomes for the 2–4% of Australians with AF. This will be achieved by providing better support and follow-up after they leave hospital to reduce the risk of repeat hospitalisation, stroke and congestive heart failure.
Customised to suit the Australian health system, the project will employ a successful engagement tool used in the USA to improve patient engagement and adherence to immunisation and medications, adapting it to provide personalised management and support to AF patients.
The tool will use digital outreach methods to improve patients’ medical and lifestyle management, monitor symptoms and identify any potential complications of AF so they can be addressed early.
Director of Research at DHCRC Professor Tim Shaw said when looking at international models, it is 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 AF patients, lowering costs, improving health outcomes and reducing the rate of debilitating stroke,” he said.
Project Lead Professor Clara Chow said, “AF is increasingly common, a growing reason for health service presentation and a leading cause of stroke. A number of studies have also demonstrated AF patients miss out on important treatments that are indicated by guidelines,” she said.
“The engagement tool uses multiple digital contact methods including SMS, emails and interactive voice response (IVR) 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,” Professor Chow said.
“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 AF patients, which down the track we can then translate to other chronic diseases as well.”
One of the problems for patients with AF is the complexity of their medical therapy.
Professor Chow explained that patients might not think it’s important to keep taking their medication or might be worried about side effects, but not taking medication makes them more likely to have a stroke or heart failure.
In addition to digital reminders, the program also connects patients to their GP and provides information about treatment options and lifestyle modifications.
“We want to gather evidence to show we can improve people’s self-management of health conditions, through digital health technologies,” Professor Chow said.
“These changes might include making an appointment with their GP, taking their medication, giving up smoking, becoming more physically active and eating a healthier diet.”
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