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A wake-up call for atrial fibrillation death risk at rural hospitals

Patients admitted to rural hospitals have greater risk of death during hospitalization than they do in urban hospitals, a study finds.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Patients with atrial fibrillation admitted to rural hospitals in the United States have a 17 percent higher chance of dying during their stay than patients admitted to urban hospitals, according to a new report in HeartRhythm based on data representing more than 96 percent of the United States population.

While those results may appear to be obvious, the findings come as a call to arms for rural hospital executives that have been struggling in recent years particularly in an ever-more consumer-driven industry where patients often speak with their wallets.

[Also: Rural hospitals are relying on simplified EHR systems to stay afloat]

AF is a common problem, consisting of skipped or irregular heartbeats -- arrhythmias -- that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other cardiovascular complications. Left untreated, AF doubles the risk of heart-related deaths and is associated with a five-fold increase in risk for stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

Thomas Deering, MD, and Ashish Bhimani, MD, both from the Arrhythmia Center, Piedmont Heart Institute in Atlanta, Georgia, noted in an accompanying editorial the study's value in increasing awareness throughout the medical community about a potentially important arrhythmic healthcare issue.

Hospital executives, researchers and policymakers should view this analysis as grounds to start determining how to better handle patients with AF, Deering and Bhimani said.

"The findings are a motivational call to initiate the goal of identifying gaps in AF care, which can then be used to create effective healthcare policies designed to reduce AF-related mortality," they wrote. 

The takeaway is clear: A higher risk of death is bad for a hospital's reputation, and thus their bottom line. When hospitals lose so do patients -- sometimes in the most devastating manner.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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