Advanced heart failure patients supported with ambulatory inotropic therapy: What defines success of therapy?

Am Heart J. 2021 Sep;239:11-18. doi: 10.1016/j.ahj.2021.05.001. Epub 2021 May 10.


Objective: The objective of this study was to describe the profiles and outcomes of a cohort of advanced heart failure patients on ambulatory inotropic therapy (AIT).

Background: With the growing burden of patients with end-stage heart failure, AIT is an increasingly common short or long-term option, for use as bridge to heart transplant (BTT), bridge to ventricular assist device (BTVAD), bridge to decision regarding advanced therapies (BTD) or as palliative care. AIT may be preferred by some patients and physicians to facilitate hospital discharge. However, counseling patients on risks and benefits is critically important in the modern era of defibrillators, durable mechanical support and palliative care.

Methods: We retrospectively studied a cohort of 241 patients on AIT. End points included transplant, VAD implantation, weaning of inotropes, or death. The primary outcomes were survival on AIT and ability to reach intended goal if planned as BTT or BTVAD. We also evaluated recurrent heart failure hospitalizations, incidence of ventricular arrhythmias (VT/VF) and indwelling line infections. Unintended consequences of AIT, such reaching unintended end point (e.g. VAD implantation in BTT patient) or worse than expected outcome after LVAD or HT, were recorded.

Results: Mean age of the cohort was 60.7 ± 13.2 years, 71% male, with Class III-IV heart failure (56% non-ischemic). Average ejection fraction was 19.4 ± 10.2%, pre-AIT cardiac index was 1.5 ± 0.4 L/min/m2 and 24% had prior ventricular arrhythmias. Overall on-AIT 1-year survival was 83%. Hospitalizations occurred in 51.9% (125) of patients a total of 174 times for worsening heart failure, line complication or ventricular arrhythmia. In the BTT cohort, only 42% were transplanted by the end of follow-up, with a 14.8% risk of death or delisting for clinical deterioration. For the patients who were transplanted, 1-year post HT survival was 96.7%. In the BTVAD cohort, 1-year survival after LVAD was 90%, but with 61.7% of patients undergoing LVAD as INTERMACS 1-2. In the palliative care cohort, only 24.5% of patients had a formal palliative care consult prior to AIT.

Conclusions: AIT is a strategy to discharge advanced heart failure patients from the hospital. It may be useful as bridge to transplant or ventricular assist device, but may be limited by complications such as hospitalizations, infections, and ventricular arrhythmias. Of particular note, it appears more challenging to bridge to transplant on AIT in the new allocation system. It is important to clarify the goals of AIT therapy upfront and continue to counsel patients on risks and benefits of the therapy itself and potential unintended consequences. Formalized, multi-disciplinary care planning is essential to clearly define individualized patient, as well as programmatic goals of AIT.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care* / methods
  • Ambulatory Care* / statistics & numerical data
  • Assisted Circulation / instrumentation
  • Assisted Circulation / methods
  • Cardiotonic Agents* / administration & dosage
  • Cardiotonic Agents* / adverse effects
  • Cardiotonic Agents* / classification
  • Female
  • Heart Failure* / diagnosis
  • Heart Failure* / drug therapy
  • Heart Failure* / mortality
  • Heart Failure* / physiopathology
  • Heart Transplantation / methods
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Intention to Treat Analysis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care / methods
  • Patient Acuity
  • Patient Discharge
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stroke Volume
  • Survival Analysis
  • Tachycardia, Ventricular* / etiology
  • Tachycardia, Ventricular* / prevention & control
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Cardiotonic Agents