Flu vaccination appointments are feasible opportunities to screen for atrial fibrillation

Olivia Miller
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A recent study led by the Medway School of Pharmacy suggests that screening for atrial fibrillation (AF) at influenza vaccination clinics may be cost-effective and target a relevant, at-risk proportion of the population (those over 65 with multiple health conditions).

AF is a condition that causes an irregular and often rapid heartbeat. It is often symptomless and is associated with an increased risk of developing stroke or heart failure. The prevalence of AF increases with age. The research published in PLOS Medicine demonstrates that appropriately trained clinical pharmacists can screen and detect AF using automated digital technology, with influenza vaccination appointments being a feasible opportunity to test more of the at-risk population.

The study led by Dr Emma Veale with colleagues at the Medway School of Pharmacy, the Centre for Health Services Studies (CHSS), Medway Maritime Hospital and Newton Place Surgery, Faversham, found that this method of single time-point screening was more reliable and cost-effective than pulse-palpation alone which is the current recommended method for AF detection.

This research assessing more than 600 people over the age of 65 attending influenza vaccination clinics at participating GP practices, suggests that annual digital AF screening in primary care could be readily adopted by general practices, delivering annual influenza vaccinations to those aged over 65 and adapted to involve other healthcare practitioners.

Dr Veale said: ‘The integration of screening programmes alongside existing healthcare services and infrastructure and utilising trained healthcare professionals (HCPs) must be sustainable. Our study proves that detecting AF using automated digital technology during flu vaccination appointments is a feasible approach to this. Furthermore, participants of the study were highly satisfied with their consultation and considered AF screening to be important. Further studies are needed to investigate how to broaden AF screening to those at-risk who do not participate in the influenza vaccination and to explore the key barriers outlined by policymakers, which have delayed the adoption of a national AF screening programme.’

The research paper titled ‘Opportunistic screening for atrial fibrillation by clinical pharmacists in UK general practice during the influenza vaccination season: A cross-sectional feasibility study’ is published in PLOS Medicine. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003197