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Heart of the matter

Augusta Health’s Heart Failure Clinic works with patients to help them feel better and stay out of the hospital

Heart failure is a scary-sounding condition. It implies that your heart no longer works and nothing can be done. It’s failed.

Not exactly. Heart failure actually is a progressive condition that occurs when the heart can’t “keep up” with the body’s need for blood and oxygen. Eventually, as heart failure worsens, the person may experience symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, or a swelling or a racing heartbeat that sends them to the doctor’s office or hospital. While it is a serious condition, and there is no cure, much can be done to manage heart failure so those with the diagnosis can live a full and happy life. Two of the key components of care — monitoring symptoms and support for the patient — are now available through Augusta Health’s Heart Failure Clinic.

The Heart Failure Clinic, staffed by Tami Collins, RN, MSN, AGACNP-BC, CHF-N, and Emily Back, RN-BSN, BS, opened in July and already has grown to more than 120 patient visits each month. Their patients range in age from less than 40 years old to more than 90 years old. Some have chronic heart failure and others are in acute heart failure. They’ve been referred after being diagnosed in the hospital, or by their family physician or cardiologist. But once referred to the Heart Failure Clinic, they become part of the family.

“Our first visit with a patient is 60 minutes long,” says Collins, “and then we follow them weekly for four weeks, with a 30-minute appointment each time. We may manage their medications, help them reduce their fluid retention, order labs or perhaps an echocardiogram, whatever is needed to evaluate their condition. We also do a lot of education and answer all their questions so they understand what symptoms they should be aware of and what they should be monitoring.”

“Patients learn to monitor their symptoms during the week between visits, and a lot can happen during that week,” adds Back. “So we encourage the patients to keep in contact with us and let us know how they’re doing. Are they gaining weight or swelling?  Is their blood pressure stable?  Are they waking up breathless? The condition is complex, and it’s important that the patients know we’re here for them to help them manage it.”

After four weeks of working closely together, the patients form a tight relationship with Collins and Back. “After the four-week session in the clinic, the next step is up to the patients. Some stay with us a bit longer, but the weekly visits are stretched out to two or four weeks. Others choose to be connected to a primary care provider or be followed by the cardiologist,” says Collins.

“But we are always available by phone,” adds Back.

The close relationship established with the patients in their clinic is a big key to its success.  A second relationship — with the patients’ other healthcare providers such as primary care physicians, cardiologists, endocrinologists and palliative care physicians — is the other. Collins says: “We really establish trust with our patients, and they know they can call us with any concerns they have. When they call, we work together to do whatever is needed to manage their symptoms and work to keep them out of the hospital.”

If you’d like more information about the Heart Failure Clinic, please contact Tami Collins or Emily Back at (540) 245-7080.