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New research has shown how novel eHealth tools used in rural Australian general practices are helping to reduce gaps in screening and treatment for atrial fibrillation (AF) in people over 65 years of age.

AF is the most common heart rhythm disorder and is also the most common preventable cause of stroke – with one in every three strokes linked to AF.

Internationally, AF management guidelines recommend opportunistic screening for people over 65 years of age, but gaps remain in screening and treatment.

If we could find and treat AF early, we could reduce the risk of stroke by 64 per cent for those at high risk,” says Jessica Orchard, lead researcher at HRI.

People living in rural communities are at greater risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) like AF and stroke, with around 25 per cent of the rural population suffering from CVDs compared to 20 per cent in metropolitan areas.

The new study found that the use of a smartphone electrocardiogram (iECG) together with a suite of other customised eHealth tools during doctor visits helped to increase opportunistic screening for AF.

“Our research has shown that a screening program in rural practices, supported by eHealth tools, screened 34 per cent of eligible patients.”

The likelihood of hospitalisation and death resulting from cardiac events increases with the distance from metropolitan areas, and the ratios of general practitioners, specialists, and nurses are significantly lower in rural areas than in metropolitan areas.

“Prevention programs suitable for rural areas are particularly important as people living in these areas tend to have worse cardiovascular outcomes and less access to specialist medical services,” Ms Orchard says.

This simple screening program with easily accessible eHealth tools would be a cost‐​effective way to prevent around 150 strokes per year if rolled out nationally.”

“This is just another example of how technology can be embedded more deeply into general practice, to help improve diagnostic testing and patient outcomes.”

Jessica Orchard is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer and PhD candidate at the Heart Research Institute and Charles Perkins Centre, The University of Sydney.

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