Lack of specialist care is associated with increased morbidity and mortality in adult congenital heart disease: a population-based study

Eur Heart J. 2021 Nov 1;42(41):4241-4248. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehab422.


Aims: The aim of this study was to provide population-based data on the healthcare provision for adults with congenital heart disease (ACHD) and the impact of cardiology care on morbidity and mortality in this vulnerable population.

Methods and results: Based on administrative data from one of the largest German Health Insurance Companies, all insured ACHD patients (<70 years of age) were included. Patients were stratified into those followed exclusively by primary care physicians (PCPs) and those with additional cardiology follow-up between 2014 and 2016. Associations between level of care and outcome were assessed by multivariable/propensity score Cox analyses. Overall, 24 139 patients (median age 43 years, 54.8% female) were included. Of these, only 49.7% had cardiology follow-up during the 3-year period, with 49.2% of patients only being cared for by PCPs and 1.1% having no contact with either. After comprehensive multivariable and propensity score adjustment, ACHD patients under cardiology follow-up had a significantly lower risk of death [hazard ratio (HR) 0.81, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.67-0.98; P = 0.03) or major events (HR 0.85, 95% CI 0.78-0.92; P < 0.001) compared to those only followed by PCPs. At 3-year follow-up, the absolute risk difference for mortality was 0.9% higher in ACHD patients with moderate/severe complexity lesions cared by PCPs compared to those under cardiology follow-up.

Conclusion: Cardiology care compared with primary care is associated with superior survival and lower rates of major complications in ACHD. It is alarming that even in a high resource setting with well-established specialist ACHD care approximately 50% of contemporary ACHD patients are still not linked to regular cardiac care. Almost all patients had at least one contact with a PCP during the study period, suggesting that opportunities to refer patients to cardiac specialists were missed at PCP level. More efforts are required to alert PCPs and patients to appropriate ACHD care.

Keywords: Adult congenital heart disease; Congenital heart disease; Morbidity; Mortality; Outcome; Quality of care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cardiology*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Female
  • Heart Defects, Congenital* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Morbidity
  • Proportional Hazards Models