Research Director at the Digital Health CRC, Professor Tim Shaw is giving his colleagues some inside info on one of their ongoing projects, after signing up to the Westmead Hospital Atrial Fibrillation Support and Outreach program as an observer. (Tim is also a lead investigator on the three-year research project.)

Tim has lived for most of his life with the heart condition Atrial Fibrillation, which involves irregular cardiac rhythms and can significantly increase the risk of stroke and cardiac failure.

In Tim’s case, these erratic electrical signals from the heart led to palpitations and feeling generally unwell.

Since he was first diagnosed in his teens, Tim’s heart condition has been managed via annual check-ups with his cardiologist, and over time he’s had a variety of treatments including medication, cardio-version (a short electric shock under anaesthetic), and ‘cardiac ablation’ surgery to reduce irregular rhythms.

But since joining the patient trial – the Westmead Hospital Atrial Fibrillation Support and Outreach program – Tim has discovered new information about managing his Atrial Fibrillation that could reduce future medical intervention.

How the program works

The trial is open to patients with Atrial Fibrillation (or AF) who have been admitted to Westmead Hospital or attending Westmead’s Rapid Access Cardiology Clinic, between January and July this year.

“We have a researcher who will talk to patients about the program and explain how it works, and they can choose to join if they are interested,” Tim explains.

He describes the process as follows:

“Once I signed into the program, I got a welcome message in the form of an automated voice call, which was a nice introduction from the actual clinical team, and was quite personalised. Then I started to receive some tips about living with AF. The system asked me key questions about shared care – such as, When will I see my GP for a checkup? Do I have any challenges about reaching my general practitioner?

Other questions asked about how well he felt, and Tim says any response outside the ‘normal’ would be followed up with an in-person phone call from the team to follow up.

“I felt very supported, in terms of the hospital discharge process,” he says.

Tim points out that when you have a chronic condition such as AF, regular ‘check-ups’ are scheduled to your health professionals; but between times, you can often not have any other support.

“Having somebody reaching out to me about AF with regular information, but in bite-size chunks so I could take it in – was really useful,” he says.

“Even though I work in healthcare and have had this condition for over 30 years, I learned a number of new things around AF, including some aspects of diet, the impact of alcohol – and other things I really wasn’t aware of,” he says.

Tim was on holidays when a couple of the automated calls came through. “I was sitting on the beach and talking to somebody on the line asking me questions about my health, then giving me some useful health tips, it all was done in two minutes,” he recalls.

Along with the cycle of repeated messaging, patients also have access to a personalised website with more information that is tailored to their own type of AF.

“It’s been really interesting being on the other side as a test case, and I can also see how incredibly useful this could be for a range of chronic health conditions,” he says.

The three-year research into the Westmead Hospital Atrial Fibrillation Support and Outreach program will be trialled with over 300 patients.

Researchers will gather self-reported patient health perceptions, and assess barriers to care, and the potential for translation to other chronic diseases.

Read our media release about the project here:  https://www.digitalhealthcrc.com/news-afib-recruits-patients/