Do doctors sometimes fail their heart failure patients? New study seeks hard data

August 20, 2003

ST. LOUIS - What's the best way to manage a patient who's dying of heart failure? And just how do physicians make decisions about this ever-growing population of patients, particularly those in the end stages of the disease?

These are two questions that a cardiologist at Saint Louis University is seeking to answer as part of research sponsored by the National Institutes of Aging. The project, funded by a $721,000 grant from the NIA, begins this summer and will continue for four years.

"Congestive heart failure is a disease of increasing prevalence, accounting for high morbidity and mortality," said lead researcher Paul J. Hauptman, M.D., a cardiologist at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "This is a disease of the elderly, so as baby boomers age we need to start understanding more about how physicians in multiple specialty areas actually treat these patients. Ultimately, we want to figure out how to best take care of patients with end-stage heart failure."

The risk of heart failure, which affects 2 to 3 million Americans, is more common among elderly patients and increases with age. About 5 percent of those who are 75 have the condition, compared to 1 percent of those age 50.

Dr. Hauptman's study has two major parts:

"We plan to investigate how physicians make decisions and the degree to which the care of the end-stage patient is influenced by physician specialty, volume or other factors," Hauptman said.

"When complete, these studies will form a framework for physicians to use when selecting care options, including palliation, for older heart failure patients near the end of life," he said.
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Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first M.D. degree west of the Mississippi River. Saint Louis University School of Medicine is a pioneer in geriatric medicine, organ transplantation, chronic disease prevention, cardiovascular disease, neurosciences and vaccine research, among others. The School of Medicine trains physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health services on a local, national and international level.

Saint Louis University

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