BACKGROUND: Atrial fibrillation (AF) occurs in many clinical contexts and is diagnosed and treated by clinicians across many specialties. This approach has resulted in treatment variations.
OBJECTIVES: The goal of this study was to evaluate the association between treating specialty and AF outcomes among patients newly diagnosed with AF.
METHODS: Using data from the TREAT-AF (Retrospective Evaluation and Assessment of Therapies in AF) study from the Veterans Health Administration, patients with newly diagnosed, nonvalvular AF between 2004 and 2012 were identified who had at least 1 outpatient encounter with primary care or cardiology within 90 days of the AF diagnosis. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to evaluate the association between treating specialty and AF outcomes.
RESULTS: Among 184,161 patients with newly diagnosed AF (age 70 ± 11 years; 1.7% women; CHA2DS2-VASc score 2.6 ± 1.7), 40% received cardiology care and 60% received primary care only. After adjustment for covariates, cardiology care was associated with reductions in stroke (hazard ratio [HR]: 0.91; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.86 to 0.96; p < 0.001) and death (HR: 0.89; 95% CI: 0.88 to 0.91; p < 0.0001) and increases in hospitalizations for AF/supraventricular tachycardia (HR: 1.38; 95% CI: 1.35 to 1.42; p < 0.0001) and myocardial infarction (HR: 1.03; 95% CI: 1.00 to 1.05; p < 0.04). The propensity-matched cohort had similar results. In mediation analysis, oral anticoagulation prescription within 90 days of diagnosis may have mediated reductions in stroke but did not mediate reductions in survival.
CONCLUSION: In patients with newly diagnosed AF, cardiology care was associated with improved outcomes, potentially mediated by early prescription of oral anticoagulation therapy. Although hypothesis-generating, these data warrant serious consideration and study of health care system interventions at the time of new AF diagnosis.