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Apr 08, 2013

Digoxin Reduces Hospitalizations in Older Heart Failure Patients

Medication may not only keep patients healthier but reduce health care costs.

According to research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 62nd Annual Scientific Session, the heart failure medication digoxin (Lanoxin) helps reduce hospitalizations in older patients. Digoxin is a medication taken by about one-third of heart failure patients to help control heart rate and reduce heart failure symptoms. The benefits of digoxin were first demonstrated by the Digitalis Investigation Group (DIG) trial in 1995, but researchers recently used data from this study to test the effect of the drug on hospital admissions.

Nearly one-third of Medicare patients with heart failure return to the hospital within 30 days of discharge, and these patients have increased risk of serious complications and death. So for many providers, the goal is to keep heart failure patients out of hospital because the fewer the hospital visits, the better the outcomes.

For that reason, experts were thrilled to hear that among the 6,400 heart failure patients enrolled in the DIG study, digoxin reduced 30-day hospital admissions by 34%. Not only do these findings indicate vast improvements in outcomes for heart failure patients, they highlight an opportunity to save billions of dollars. Hospitalizations account for about a quarter of the nearly $550 billion annual Medicare spending, and Medicare has started penalizing hospitals that have high re-hospitalization rates. If the use of digoxin could help lower re-admission rates among heart failure patients, this drug could help reduce burden on both patients and the health care system.

However, researchers are well aware of the fact that the data used in this study is nearly 20 years old. They say that further research is needed to determine if findings are still applicable, since there are many drugs available now that weren’t available in the 1990s. Also, researchers will need to reproduce this study to see whether digoxin can help reduce re-admissions to the hospital, rather than just admissions.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is digoxin?
  • Digoxin (Lanoxin) is a medication that helps strengthen heart muscle contractions, control heart rate and reduce heart failure symptoms. Digoxin is most commonly used to treat heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias).

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