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Prevention of postoperative atrial fibrillation in cardiac surgery: a quality improvement project.

PURPOSE: Postoperative atrial fibrillation (POAF) has an incidence of 20-60% in cardiac surgery. The Society of Cardiovascular Anesthesiologists and the European Association of Cardiothoracic Anaesthesiology Practice Advisory have recommended postoperative beta blockers and amiodarone for the prevention of POAF. By employing quality improvement (QI) strategies, we sought to increase the use of these agents and to reduce the incidence of POAF among our patients undergoing cardiac surgery.

METHODS: This single-centre QI initiative followed the traditional Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycle scientific methodology. A POAF risk score was developed to categorize all patients undergoing cardiac surgery as either normal or elevated risk. Risk stratification was incorporated into a preprinted prescribing guide, which recommended postoperative beta blockade for all patients and a postoperative amiodarone protocol for patients with elevated risk starting on postoperative day one (POD1). A longitudinal audit of all patients undergoing cardiac surgery was conducted over 11 months to track the use of prophylactic medications and the incidence of POAF.

RESULTS: Five hundred and sixty patients undergoing surgery were included in the QI initiative from 1 December 2020 to 1 November 2021. The baseline rate of POAF across all surgical subtypes was 39% (198/560). The use of prophylactic amiodarone in high-risk patients increased from 13% (1/8) at the start of the project to 41% (48/116) at the end of the audit period. The percentage of patients receiving a beta blocker on POD1 did fluctuate, but remained essentially unchanged throughout the audit (34.8% in December 2020 vs 46.7% in October 2021). After 11 months, the overall incidence of POAF was 29% (24.9% relative reduction). Notable reductions in the incidence of POAF were observed in more complex surgical subtypes by the end of the audit, including multiple valve replacement (89% vs 56%), aortic repair (50% vs 33%), and mitral valve surgery (45% vs 33%).

CONCLUSIONS: This single-centre QI intervention increased the use of prophylactic amiodarone by 28% for patients at elevated risk of POAF, with no change in the early postoperative initiation of beta blockers (46.7% of patients by POD1). There was a notable reduction in the incidence of POAF in patients at elevated risk undergoing surgery.

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