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Collaborative specialty care helps achieve individual goals for heart failure patients

By Andrew Sauer, MD, cardiologist

sauer-andrew-BWP000R3Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart functions at a weakened state insufficient to meet the body's demand for oxygen and nutrient-rich blood. One out of five people will develop heart failure in their lifetime, and approximately 5.7 million Americans live with the condition today1.

Specialized care for heart failure

The University of Kansas Health System provides dedicated expertise, services and resources for heart failure patients. Our advanced heart failure and transplant care allow us to support patients at a specific stage in the chronic disease process. Currently, there is no other heart transplant offering in Kansas to serve patients who need this high level of care.

Heart failure services

  • Complex heart surgery
  • Bridge to transplant services
  • Destination therapy
  • Left ventricular assist devices
  • Heart transplant surgery

We welcome referrals and offer physicians and patients these assurances in trusting our services:

  • Our experienced team regularly navigates the most complex conditions and promotes systemic delivery of heart failure care. By establishing and executing best-practice care standards, we ensure consistent, effective care provision across collaborative teams, elevating outcomes and negating the risk of siloed care.

  • Patients benefit from the experience and expertise of dedicated heart failure experts. Our team features five cardiologists, six nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants, 10 clinic and inpatient nurses, a pharmacist, multiple case managers and social workers and a team of palliative care experts. Patients receive a complete range of the care they need by a team entirely focused on heart failure.

  • We offer inpatient and outpatient facilities and staff. This means your patients will enjoy the benefits of longitudinal care by consistent providers spanning care venues. This closes the care gaps that can emerge when patients see different providers in different settings. It also promotes relationship-building – an instrumental component to optimal care.

  • We are fully committed to partnership in our mission to optimize health for heart failure patients. We invite general practitioners to remain actively involved in the care process. We collaborate with our organization's heart surgeons and partner with our palliative care teams, when maximizing comfort proves to be the right and remaining focus.

  • We are certified by the United Network for Organ Sharing and are actively listing patients for heart transplants.

  • We have performed exceptionally in the metrics by which we are measured. From U.S. News & World Report to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to the American Heart Association to The Joint Commission, objective industry leaders rate our organization among the best for heart failure care. Our readmission rates and mortality rates are well below national averages, while our patient satisfaction rates are higher.

When to refer

We offer three general criteria to guide referring physicians in their decisions to direct their patients to our heart failure specialists.

  • If you are concerned about your patient or your patient exhibits breathing difficulties, fatigue, coughing or fluid buildup, or complains of difficulty accomplishing everyday tasks, like walking or climbing stairs

  • If your patient requires two or more hospitalizations within six months

  • If your patient isn't tolerating the usual cardio therapies

Our approach to individualized care

Each patient's first encounter with our team is critically important and focused on establishing good rapport. We want to understand their problems and concerns, collect data and recognize personal goals. We want to learn what patients want out of treatment. For example: While some patients may want to focus on prolonging life, others may simply want to be comfortable in their remaining months or years. By understanding each person's needs, we deliver a compassionate experience to help patients feel confident in their decisions.

The benefits of shared care

The average life expectancy for a heart failure patient can be worse than that of a cancer patient. It can be a complicated diagnosis, with contributing factors ranging from diabetes to stroke to lung disease to aging. This complexity places an additional burden on primary care physicians.

Through shared care, we can minimize the load on primary care providers while maximizing positive outcomes. Our complete range of heart failure services allows for centralized treatment and ensures patients receive timely, uninterrupted care while avoiding fragmentation.

Dr. Sauer is a cardiologist at The University of Kansas Health System and medical director of our advanced heart failure and transplantation services. He is board-certified in internal medicine with subcertifications in cardiovascular disease and advanced heart failure/transplant cardiology.

1Heart Failure Fact Sheet. (2016). Retrieved Nov. 30, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_heart_failure.htm.