A generation ago, there were awareness campaigns to tell people with an irregular heartbeats to go to the emergency room to prevent possible heart attacks.

It worked. People now go to the emergency room as they have been told but with the gradual government takeover of health care there is sudden concern about the costs of these visits. Atrial fibrillation is the most common kind of arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat and can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. 

At the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2014, researchers analyzed patients from the Nationwide Emergency Department Data who visited the emergency department with AF listed as the first diagnosis in 2006-11. They found:

  • The average AF hospital admission rate was 65 percent which means doctors were making the judgment that patients were having a serious issue. The admission rate for AF varied from 62.5 percent in 2006 to 67 percent in 2011.
  • There was a decrease in in-hospital death rates (1.18 percent in 2006 to 0.97 percent in 2011) which points to improving care of hospitalized patients.
  • The rate of AF emergency room visits increased from 133 visits per 100,000 persons in 2006 to 165 visits per 100,000 persons in 2011.

Patient characteristics associated with higher admissions rates include those who were elderly, female, had Medicare or Medicaid insurance, lived in areas with low median income, or visited teaching hospitals and those in the northeast and metropolitan areas.

"The huge demographic and geographic variations highlight the unmet need for interventions to decrease hospitalization rates," said Sourabh Aggarwal, M.D., study lead researcher.

But it is saving lives if deaths have gone down. And health is the most important issue in health care, not cost.