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Pharmacists upbeat about pulse checks for atrial fibrillation

Kiwi pharmacists are continuing to do their part in an internationally recognised effort to detect atrial fibrillation.

From 20 to 26 November, staff from up to 27 pharmacies around New Zealand took part in 2017’s second Heart Rhythm Week – an initiative where pharmacists check customers’ pulses for irregularityand refer them for treatment if anything is found.

The testing is New Zealand’s contribution to a global pharmacy effort to detect atrial fibrillation (AF) that earlier in November won the International Pharmacists for Anticoagulation Care Taskforce’s (iPACT) Atrial Fibrillation Association Healthcare Pioneers award.

New Zealand pharmacists started doing Heart Rhythm Week in 2016 and in their first 2017 outing, which ran from 12 to 16 June, 91 patients were screened and six were found to have irregular heartbeats.

The results of the November effort were not known at the time Pharmacy Today went to print. Pharmacist Dale Griffiths, who owns Westview Pharmacy in Glen Eden, Auckland, led the participating New Zealand pharmacies.

Mr Griffiths was approached by iPACT as it was interested in work being done on warfarin in New Zealand – an area he is heavily involved with. Then iPACT developed a relationship with the AF Association (AFA), which works to raise awareness about arrhythmias in the UK. Heart Rhythm Week was an AFA initiative and iPACT decided to get involved.

AF affects 16 million people worldwide, and leads to a higher risk of stroke and heart failure. According to the AFA, every 15 seconds someone suffers an AF-related stroke, yet most can be prevented using appropriate anticoagulation therapy. 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 twothirds,” he says. “Certainly, in our pharmacy we found someone with undiagnosed atrial fibrillation, who we could refer straight to the GP,” he says.

The only risk to patients from screening is perhaps anxiety, but Mr Griffiths thinks this can be mitigated by explaining to them why it’s important to check their pulse. “If we don’t check, we can’t find them and then they are still at risk,” he says. AF screening could be rolled out as an ongoing service but, like everything in pharmacy, it would rely on funding, he says.

Article from by Georgia Merton
Photo: Jonathan Chilton-Towle

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