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Emory Atrial Fibrillation Support Group seeks to educate, empower patients

Back in 2013, cardiologist David De Lurgio realized that his atrial fibrillation patients were not offered the full picture about their condition. While the diagnosis and treatment plan were easily explained in a regular office visit, creating a truly informed patient was much harder. In order to help meet this need, De Lurgio founded the Emory Atrial Fibrillation Support Group.

Atrial fibrillation, commonly called AFIB, affects more individuals than any other arrhythmia. It is characterized by abnormal electrical signals in the top chambers of the heart, called the atria, that result in a quivering motion instead of regular contractions. Due to this disordered pumping, known as fibrillation, blood can become stagnant and clot within the heart. These clots become very dangerous, especially when they travel to the brain causing a stroke. Other common symptoms of AFIB include fatigue, a racing heart beat and potentially heart failure.

The Emory Atrial Fibrillation Support Group's goal is simple: to help inform the metro Atlanta community about the diagnosis, risks and treatment options of Atrial Fibrillation. To meet its goals, the group relies on a dedicated team of Emory electrophysiologists, physicians specially trained in the electrical workings of the heart, and many other members of the cardiology staff. Rotating topics for the meetings allows the group's attendees to gain a wide perspective about the condition and many different treatment options.

Surveys are distributed at each meeting that assess the participant's knowledge about atrial fibrillation and whether they were introduced to different treatment options. Some 45 percent of attendees have reported their knowledge about AFIB as fair, inadequate or deficient. With the goal to support the patient/physician relationship, the group attempts to help patients become more informed in their discussions with their physicians, which will hopefully lead to more confident patients and better outcomes.

"The Support Group is designed to disseminate information to our patients in an interactive forum. It has also been very useful in helping me learn where our patients have knowledge gaps. Just like our patients, I learn something helpful to me at every meeting," notes De Lurgio, professor of medicine at Emory University and director of electrophysiology at Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital.

So far, the group is working. In the past year and the first four meetings, over 250 have attended with a 98 percent satisfaction rate. Overall, 99 percent of patients and family members reported learning more about AFIB from the meetings and 92 percent reported learning about new treatment options. Past speakers have included De Lurgio and doctors Michael Lloyd, Mikhael El Chami and Michael Hoskins.

The group has been a rewarding experience for patients and staff members alike, as the physicians have appreciated the opportunity to interact with patients outside the office environment and better understand their educational needs.

"Patients and providers enjoy this opportunity to talk with each other and learn from other patients' experiences. As a group, we quickly realize that patients with AFIB have a lot in common with each other. At the same time, they find that their situation may be unique in certain ways," says Hoskins, assistant professor of medicine at Emory University.

A typical meeting begins with opening remarks and a presentation on the chosen AFIB topic. After breaking for a light lunch, the 30 minutes remaining is dedicated for patient and family member questions. The group has never ended on time.

"I believe the most valuable part of the Support Group for patients is the opportunity to truly open up and ask any question about AFIB, and then to not only receive an answer from a physician but also have the chance to hear from other AFIB patients," says Mathew Levy, lead coordinator of the Atrial Fibrillation Support Group.

De Lurgio will be the featured speaker at the next AF Support Group meeting. His talk, "Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke, What Can We Do to Reduce the Risk?" will take place on Saturday, Nov. 8 at 11 a.m. All of the Emory Atrial Fibrillation Support Group meetings are free for patients and their family members and take place at Emory University Hospital Midtown.

For more information, patients and their family members can contact Mathew Levy at 404-686-5974 or visit the group's website.

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