Hospitalists Outline Quality of Care Initiative for Inpatients with Atrial Fibrillation


SHM asked leaders of the Hospital-Based Quality Improvement in Stroke Prevention for Patients with Atrial Fibrillation (AF) Project, Hiren Shah, MD, MBA, SFHM, and Andrew Masica, MD, SFHM, to provide an overview of the program.

“AF is a disease state that is highly prevalent, and the numbers are rising yearly. We also know that it is one of the most common inpatient diagnoses,” Dr. Shah says. “However, when you look at the quality of care provided to our AF patients, it is quite variable and has implications for other hospital performance metrics such as 30-day readmission rates. This makes AF a high-impact target for inpatient quality improvement initiatives.”

Dr. Shah is assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and medical director at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Dr. Masica is vice president of clinical effectiveness at Baylor Health Care System in Dallas.

The implementation guide for SHM’s AF project will be available later in December at www.hospitalmedicine.org/afib.

Question: What is the scope of your project?

Dr. Masica

Dr. Masica: That is a question we wrestled with. Numerous care processes related to AF are amenable to inpatient quality improvement. We chose to focus our efforts on stroke prevention in AF and the development of a toolkit to help hospital-based practitioners to assess stroke and bleeding risk consistently and, if indicated, to initiate antithrombotic therapy.

Dr. Shah: Along those lines, we know that at least 25% of AF-related strokes are potentially preventable with adherence to evidence-based care; however, current data indicate that only 50% to 60% of patients with AF who are eligible to receive antithrombotic therapy are on active stroke prophylaxis.

Q: Why do you think there are such large gaps in stroke prophylaxis for AF patients?

Dr. Masica: The prophylaxis decision requires the clinician to do an anticoagulation net-benefit and risk assessment, and although there are validated tools to do this type of assessment, use of these tools hasn’t yet become hardwired into daily hospital practice. Empiric clinical assessments often overestimate the bleed risk and underestimate stroke risk, so the ultimate result can be underuse of antithrombotic therapy.

“Ideally, we would like to start anticoagulation during the hospital stay or on discharge, if indicated, but even if we clearly communicate a patient’s stroke and bleed risk to the PCP on discharge, we can help ensure that this issue will be addressed on outpatient follow-up.”

–Dr. Shah

Dr. Shah: Another barrier is that in many hospitals, there are not reminders in place in our workflow for this assessment to happen at all. Hospitalists may think that the anticoagulation decision is an outpatient issue, better addressed by their primary care doctor, so it is sometimes even intentionally bypassed. Another barrier is that it takes time to discuss a patient’s values and preferences in the anticoagulation decision.

Q: But isn’t stroke prevention in AF more of an outpatient issue?

Dr. Shah: We think the hospital is a great place to start this evaluation and to make the anticoagulation decision. Of course, we should discuss these issues with the primary care doctor. Ideally, we would like to start anticoagulation during the hospital stay or on discharge, if indicated, but even if we clearly communicate a patient’s stroke and bleed risk to the PCP on discharge, we can help ensure that this issue will be addressed on outpatient follow-up.

Q: What specific tools for stroke and bleed risk are you referring to?

Dr. Shah: The CHADS2 scoring system is a well-validated tool for estimating the risk of stroke in AF patients, one that most clinicians may be aware of. The CHA2DS2-VASc is a slightly more refined scoring system. When it comes to bleeding, however, fewer clinicians are aware of the HAS-BLED bleeding risk assessment method.

Dr. Masica: The scoring systems represent a consistent, reproducible approach by which to evaluate inpatients with AF. Of course, there is some discretion for other patient-specific factors (e.g. fall risk) that are not captured in the scoring systems, but they are good starting points in the decision-making process. Finally and most importantly, although it is often overlooked, shared decision-making should take place with the patients, because their values in facing the risk of stroke versus bleeding often tip the balance one way or the other.

Q: How will the project help hospitals in this process?

Dr. Shah: We have written a QI Implementation Guide for hospitals with tools intended to improve the care of patients with AF in the hospital setting. This book will be similar to SHM’s VTE Prevention Implementation Guide, published a few years ago. We also will have an upcoming AF QI resource room within the SHM website. Additionally, similar to VTE, there are likely to be future mentored implementation projects where we will be working directly with hospitals and coaching them in this initiative.

Dr. Masica: We also have given a recent SHM-sponsored webinar that outlines some content of the guide. It can be accessed on the SHM website. This webinar reviews how to start a QI project in AF, assess your current state of care, build an interdisciplinary team, use validated tools, and deploy interventions to help make the stroke risk assessment and prophylaxis decision. I would note that the intended audience for these tools is broad and includes frontline hospitalists, QI directors, CMOs, and COOs, as well as nursing leadership, NPs, PAs, pharmacists, and other care providers.

Q: Does healthcare reform impact your efforts in this area?

Dr. Shah: Value-based purchasing, preventing readmissions, accountable care organizations, and bundled payments are all aspects of reform that will involve this therapeutic area, as their scope will impact the quality of care we deliver, how our cost structures are, and how we improve fragmentation of care across care transitions.

Dr. Masica: In addition, market forces, healthcare legislation, conceptual shifts regarding the need for systematic approaches to healthcare improvement, and new rules that may impact hospital reimbursement will continue to make AF an important healthcare quality issue. Thus, we think the discussion around delivering patient-centered care in AF is really just beginning.

Brendon Shank is SHM’s associate vice president of communications.

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