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Apr 30, 2014

Heart Failure Hospitalizations: A National Challenge

Frequent heart failure hospitalizations put significant pressure on the health care system, according to recent statistics.

Heart failure hospitalizations remain high despite advances in care, according to a paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Led by researchers at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, this paper analyzed national hospitalization trends for heart failure—a chronic condition affecting approximately 5 million Americans. Using data from U.S. hospitals from 2006–2010, researchers were able to assess trends in heart failure hospitalizations and the results were staggering.

Each year, heart failure patients made almost 1 million emergency room visits between 2006 and 2010. Most heart failure patients were officially admitted to the hospital for treatment and stayed for an average of three-and-a-half days. Researchers found that heart failure patients from the Northeast were more likely to be admitted to the hospital than patients in other U.S. regions and patients without health insurance were more likely to be discharged without admittance. However, when patients without health insurance were admitted into the hospital, they were more likely to need and receive a major procedure.

But what researchers really wanted to know is if we’ve made any progress in keeping heart failure patients healthier and out of the hospital in recent years. Unfortunately, they didn’t observe any changes in the number of heart failure hospitalizations, which means just as many heart failure patients continued to seek emergency treatment in 2010 as they did four years earlier. And not surprisingly, emergency room charges also increased, from $1,075 in 2006 to $1,558 in 2010.

But there is some good news. Between 2006 and 2010, we made some progress in shortening hospital stays for heart failure patients. By 2010, patients had an average hospital stay of just two-and-a-half days compared with a three-and-a-half-day stay in 2006. Not only does a shorter hospital stay help save money, it indicates that patients are receiving more effective treatment for their condition once hospitalized.

Still, the national burden of hospitalizations from heart failure is huge. Authors hope their research will help inform future initiatives designed to improve heart failure treatment and reduce hospitalizations from this chronic condition. Although patients with heart failure require close care, especially as their condition worsens, the goal of treatment is to keep patients as healthy as possible and avoid frequent trips to the emergency department.
Read the full study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why are frequent hospital visits common among heart failure patients?
  • Heart failure is a chronic condition that can cause debilitating symptoms, especially as the condition becomes more severe. It can also increase risk for complications such as stroke, heart valve problems and kidney damage. That’s why it’s important for patients with heart failure to work closely with their doctor to manage their condition and choose a treatment plan that is right for them.
  • What are common heart failure symptoms?

  • Heart failure symptoms often present themselves slowly but progress and worsen over time. These symptoms include shortness of breath; swelling of feet, ankles or abdomen; fatigue; cough and weight gain.

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