Welton NJ et al.: Screening strategies for atrial fibrillation: a systematic review and cost-effectiveness analysis. Health Technol Assess (2017) 21(29)
A national screening programme for atrial fibrillation is likely to represent a cost-effective use of resources, with systematic opportunistic screening more likely to be cost-effective than systematic population screening.
Diagnostic test accuracy depended on the screening test and how it was interpreted. In general, the screening tests identified in our review had high sensitivity (> 0.9). Systematic population and systematic opportunistic screening strategies were found to be similarly effective, with an estimated 170 individuals needed to be screened to detect one additional AF case compared with no screening. Systematic opportunistic screening was more likely to be cost-effective than systematic population screening, as long as the uptake of opportunistic screening observed in randomised controlled trials translates to practice. Modified blood pressure monitors, photoplethysmography or nurse pulse palpation were more likely to be cost-effective than other screening tests. A screening strategy with an initial screening age of 65 years and repeated screens every 5 years until age 80 years was likely to be cost-effective, provided that compliance with treatment does not decline with increasing age.
A national screening programme for AF is likely to represent a cost-effective use of resources. Systematic opportunistic screening is more likely to be cost-effective than systematic population screening. Nurse pulse palpation or modified blood pressure monitors would be appropriate screening tests, with confirmation by diagnostic 12-lead electrocardiography interpreted by a trained GP, with referral to a specialist in the case of an unclear diagnosis. Implementation strategies to operationalise uptake of systematic opportunistic screening in primary care should accompany any screening recommendations.