ESC Heart Fail. 2021 Sep 26. doi: 10.1002/ehf2.13608. Online ahead of print.
AIMS: Evaluate whether UK National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE) chronic heart failure (HF) guidelines can be safely and effectively refined through specialist referral management.
METHODS AND RESULTS: All referrals to a UK centre 1/3/2019-30/5/2019 and 1/6/2020-31/7/2020 were reviewed by HF specialists. Patients were triaged to specialist assessment in HF clinic, according to the NICE HF diagnostic pathway [urgency based on N-terminal pro brain natriuretic peptide (NTproBNP) levels], or the referrer given remote Advice & Guidance (A&G), to aid primary care management. Standardized triage criteria for recommending primary care management were (i) presentation inconsistent with HF, (ii) competing comorbidity/frailty meant specialist assessment in clinic not in patient’s best interests, (iii) recent assessment for same condition, or (iv) patient had known HF. Following triage patients managed in the primary care were categorized as low or high risk of adverse outcomes. Outcome measures were 90 day all-cause and HF hospital admission and mortality rates. Four hundred and eighty-six patients had the median age of 80 (74-86) years, and 253 (52%) were male. Two hundred and six (42%) had NTproBNP > 2000 pg/mL. Primary care management was recommended for 128 patients (26%): 105 (22%) A&G alone and 23 input from community HF nurse specialists. Primary care management was recommended due to the following: presentation inconsistent with HF 53 (42%), more important competing comorbidity/frailty 35 (27%), recent assessment 17 (13%), and known HF 23 (18%). Patients managed in primary care had higher rates of all-cause hospitalization (30% vs. 19%; P = 0.018) and death (7% vs. 2%; P = 0.0054) than those seen in HF clinic. Of those managed in primary care, 50 (39%) were determined to be at low risk and 78 (61%) at high risk. High-risk patients were older (87 vs. 80 years; P = 0.0026), had much higher NTproBNP (2666 vs. 697 pg/mL; P < 0.0001), and were managed in the primary care due to severe comorbidity (45%) or known HF (31%). They had extremely high rates of adverse outcomes: 35 all-cause hospitalization (45%), 12 HF hospitalization (15%), and 9 deaths (12%). Low-risk patients were usually felt not to have HF (86%) and confirmed to have low rates of adverse outcomes: three all-cause hospitalizations (6%; P < 0.0001 compared with high risk) and zero HF hospitalization (P = 0.0033) or death (P = <0.012).
CONCLUSIONS: Incorporating specialist referral management into NICE HF diagnostic pathway reduces the demand on HF clinics and may improve the patient experience by facilitating community care. However, many of the patients identified for primary care management are at very high risk of adverse outcomes in the short term and are frequently hospitalized. Urgent implementation of alternative pathways and community-based care packages in parallel for these high-risk patients is extremely important.