Background: Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common sustained cardiac tachyarrhythmia and is often an occasional diagnosis in the absence of known cardiac disease. The aim of this study is to describe an Italian patient population with AF followed by their General Practitioners (GPs) using a telecardiology service.
Methods: A total of 655 Italian GPs were equipped with a portable electrocardiographer. The ECG tracing of all consecutive patients (7516) received between January and September 2001 was included into the study.
Results: AF was detected in 719 patients (9.%) (77+/-12 years). In 448 patients, it was a known chronic condition, while in 271 patients, it was a new diagnosis. In the chronic AF, the principal reason for the teleconsultation was a routine control by the GPs, but an uncontrolled cardiac rate was present in 29% of the cases, while an antiplatelet or anticoagulation therapy was administered in only 46.2% cases. The teleconsultation alone provided a solution to the GPs' requests in 348 patients (77.6%) (154 cases (34.5%) required no further action while 194 patients (43.5%) needed therapy adjustments only), while 47 patients (10.5%) required hospitalization and 51 patients needed further diagnostic tests. In 271 cases, a first evidence of atrial fibrillation was recorded: in 259 patients, GPs requested a teleconsultation in the presence of symptoms (mainly palpitation, dyspnoea and fatigue) and in 12 for routine control; in this case, 121 patients (46.9%) needed Emergency Department (ED) admission, 113 patients (39.1%) needed therapy adjustments and, for 19 patients (7.5%), further diagnostic tests were prescribed.
Conclusion: In Italy, many patients, in particular the elderly, with AF are followed by their GPs on a routine basis; a telecardiology service may provide a useful tool in the home management of chronic AF and in the first detection of new cases of AF.