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Kiwi pharmacists recognized for their role in the Know Your Pulse Campaign (Pharmacy Today, 5th November 2017.)

Kiwi pharmacists have been recognised for their part in an international pharmacy effort to detect atrial fibrillation (AF). The International Pharmacists Anticoagulation Care Taskforce (iPACT) awarded it's Atrial Fibrillation Association Healthcare Pioneers Award to the group, which includes more than 20 New Zealand pharmacists.

Pharmacist Dale Griffiths, who owns Westview pharmacy in Auckland, led the New Zealand pharmacies in participating in Heart Rhythm Week this year, during which pharmacists tested patients for AF. During the week, 91 patients were screened in New Zealand, of which six had irregular heartbeats and were referred to the doctor. "Certainly, in our pharmacy we found someone with undiagnosed atrial fibrillation, who we could refer straight to the GP," he says. 

People with AF, which affects 16 million people worldwide, have a higher risk of stroke and heart failure. According to Mr Griffiths, AF is a silent killer, and most people don't know they have it. "By putting people onto warfarin or any of the newer anticoagulation drugs, we're reducing their chances of having a stroke by two thirds," he says.  According to the AF Association, every 15 seconds someone suffers an AF-related stroke, yet most can be prevented using appropriate anticoagulation therapy.

In participating pharmacies, AF testing was done either by manual pulse check or using Cardia smartphone technology. "It was an AF Association initiative, and at iPACT we thought we as pharmacies could be a part of it, so we participated and published our results," says Mr Griffiths.

Mr Griffiths was approached by iPACT because of the international interest in the work being done on warfarin in New Zealand, in which he was heavily involved. Then iPACT developed a relationship with the AFA, which works to raise awareness about Arrythmias in the UK. He has had nothing but support from doctors, who he says were keen for pharmacists to do the screening.

In response to a question about unintended harm, he says the only risk is perhaps anxiety for the patient, but he says that's about explaining to them why it's important to check. "If we don't check, we can't find them and then you're still at risk," he says.

Mr Griffiths thinks the screening could be rolled out as an ongoing service, but like everything in pharmacy, would rely on funding. "It's like any random screening - the value of it has to be useful," he says, "but it's a really preventable health risk that we have a chance to decrease."

Another Heart Rhythm Week is planned from 20 to 26 November.

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