Background: Clinical guidelines recommend specialized care for adult congenital heart disease (ACHD) patients. In reality, few patients receive such dedicated care. We sought to examine the impact of specialized care on ACHD patient mortality.
Methods and results: We examined referral rates to specialized ACHD centers and ACHD patient mortality rates between 1990 and 2005 in the population-based Quebec Congenital Heart Disease database (n=71 467). This period covers several years before and after the publication of guidelines endorsing specialized care for ACHD patients. A time-series design, based on Joinpoint and Poisson regression analyses, was used to assess the changes in annual referral and patient mortality rates. The association between specialized ACHD care and all-cause mortality was assessed in both case-control and cohort studies. The time-series analysis demonstrated a significant increase in referral rates to specialized ACHD centers in 1997 (rate ratio, +7.4%; 95% confidence interval [CI], +6.6% to +8.2%). In parallel, a significant reduction in expected ACHD patient mortality was observed after year 2000 (rate ratio, -5.0%;95% CI, -10.8% to -0.8%). In exploratory post hoc cohort and case-control analyses, specialized ACHD care was independently associated with reduced mortality (hazard ratio, 0.78; 95% CI, 0.65-0.94) and a reduced odds of death (adjusted odds ratio, 0.82; 95% CI, 0.08-0.97), respectively. This effect was predominantly driven by patients with severe congenital heart disease (hazard ratio, 0.38; 95% CI, 0.22-0.67).
Conclusions: A significant increase in referrals to specialized ACHD centers followed the introduction of the clinical guidelines. Moreover, referral to specialized ACHD care was independently associated with a significant mortality reduction. Our findings support a model of specialized care for all ACHD patients.
Keywords: congenital; heart diseases; mortality; referral and consultation; treatment outcome.