Benefits of Cardiac Resynchronization
By A. Rudmann, MD
Cleland J, Daubert J, Erdmann E, et al. The effect of cardiac resynchronization on morbidity and mortality in heart failure. N Engl J Med. 2005;352:1539-1549.
A quarter to a third of patients with CHF have left or right bundle branch block, in which one side of the heart depolarizes and contracts before the other. Such electro-mechanical dyssynchrony is associated with decreased ejection fraction (EF), decreased cardiac output, and worse symptoms. A new pacemaker technology—called cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT)—is a technically difficult procedure that involves placing a lead through the coronary sinus to the left side of the heart, re-establishing electro-mechanical synchrony. CRT improves EF and CHF symptoms, but its effect on mortality has been unknown.
In this unblinded trial funded and aided by Medtronic (a CRT device manufacturer) patients with class III-IV CHF despite standard medical therapy, ejection fraction <35%, and QRS >120 msec were randomized to CRT plus medical therapy or medical therapy alone. Patients with a major cardiovascular event in the preceding six weeks, conventional indication for pacemaker or defibrillator, continuous intravenous therapy for CHF, or atrial arrhythmia were excluded.
Eight-hundred-thirteen patients were followed for a mean of 2.5 years. The primary endpoint (a composite of death from any cause and first unplanned hospitalization for a major cardiovascular event) was reached by 39% of patients in the CRT arm versus 55% in the control arm. Death was also lower in the CRT group (20% versus 30%). Both outcomes were highly statistically significant. Other benefits of CRT included reduced hospitalization for worsening CHF (18% versus 33%), less severe symptoms, better quality of life, and higher left ventricular ejection fraction. Twelve percent of patients required more than one attempt to successfully insert the CRT device.
This study reports significant benefits for CRT added to medical therapy in patients with moderate-to-severe CHF, low EF, and cardiac dyssynchrony. The results are consistent with reported hemodynamic benefits of CRT. Limitations of the study include the unblinded methodology and close participation of the study sponsor in conducting the trial. Both raise questions about potential bias. Until other studies are available, clinicians should decide whether CRT is appropriate for individual patients. The cost effectiveness of CRT is not known.
Handoffs Finally Get Attention
By A. Rudmann, MD
Solet D, Norvell J, Rutan G, et al. Lost in translation: challenges and opportunities in physician-to-physician communication during patient handoffs. Acad Med. 2005;80(12):1094-1099.
Handoffs involve the transfer of patient care responsibility from one clinician to another. In non-medical industries, analogous situations are known to be error-prone and have received substantial attention. However, despite the six-year-old Institute of Medicine study implicating poor communication as a major contributor to preventable deaths in U.S. hospitals, surprisingly little attention has been paid to handoffs by the medical community. A notable exception is AHRQ’s (the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality) Web Morbidity and Mortality Rounds, which has highlighted the significance of poor communication among clinicians.
This article evaluates current handoff practices of the Indiana University School of Medicine (Indianapolis) internal medicine residency program. Major findings include significant variability in preparation, content, and method of handoffs across their four-hospital system. Barriers to effective handoff communication include lack of privacy, social hierarchy, language issues, lack of direct communication, inefficiency, and lack of formal education.
The authors propose Essential Elements for Successful Handoffs, including the following content items: complete team information, complete patient identification, brief history of present illness, active problems and past medical history, active medications, allergies, venous access status and contingencies, code status, pertinent lab data, concerns for the next 18-24 hours, long-term plans, and psychosocial concerns. Regarding process, the authors recommend both verbal and written communication routinely and bedside handoffs for high-risk patients. Additionally, they advise a formal handoff curriculum for residents, including both didactic instruction and attending role modeling.