Decline in Free Medicare Heart Checks Concerns hearts4heart
To mark Atrial Fibrillation (AF) Awareness Week (20th – 26th September 2021), we spoke to hearts4heart CEO Tanya Hall about AF and the importance of regular heart checks.
Hearts4heart is a national charity that supports, educates, and advocates for Australians living with heart disease. Tanya spoke about how more Australians can get diagnosed with AF, the role of medical technology, and her concern over the significant drop in nationwide Medicare-funded heart checks during the pandemic.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
AF is a condition that causes the heart’s top chambers to beat fast and erratically leading to an irregular heartbeat. Untreated, it can lead to major health complications such as stroke and heart failure. This Atrial Fibrillation (AF) Awareness Week, hearts4heart is encouraging Australians to look after their heart health and go for a potentially life-saving check.
How can more Australians get diagnosed with AF?
“Approximately half a million Australians have an irregular heartbeat, and one in four of these people are not aware of it and remain undiagnosed,” Tanya said.
“It’s often not until a patient is presented in hospital with a stroke that AF is detected, and many of these strokes could have been prevented if they had been diagnosed and treated early. An easy heart health check is the only way to minimise your risk.”
How medical technology has changed the landscape
Just last year, hearts4heart launched the ‘Feel the Beat’ app that lets you check the health of your heart from anywhere in the world if you have your phone. This has proved important over the last 18 months with lockdowns disrupting many aspects of healthcare.
“We at hearts4heart wanted to ensure that there is still a focus on heart health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Feel the Beat app is free, quick and painless and allows you to check the health of your heart from anywhere, even the comfort of your own home,” Tanya added.
“The app can assess your risk of developing atrial fibrillation and uses your phone camera to check the health of your pulse. Though we do still encourage Australians to visit their GPs for heart checks.”
Concern over the significant drop in nationwide Medicare-funded heart checks
Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) data from July to December 2020 showed a 20% drop in heart checks, which Tanya fears will lead to an increase in strokes that could have otherwise been preventable.
“This is huge concern for hearts4heart. Over the past 18 months the focus has of course been on COVID-19, but as a result, people are forgetting about their heart health.” She said.
“An irregular heartbeat causes approx. 6000 strokes per year and one in four of these people have undiagnosed atrial fibrillation. So, with less people having heart checks and many still in lockdown, this number may drop even more.”
Risks and symptoms
Tanya highlighted that atrial fibrillation affects both men and women and can occur at any age. However, the risk of having AF increases as you get older (65+). A person with AF is also five-times more likely to have a stroke.
Symptoms can include palpitations, dizziness, tiredness, shortness of breath, fainting, ankle swelling and chest pain, though in some cases, AF may cause no symptoms at all. Therefore, it is important to have your heart rate checked regularly.