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Br J Gen Pract. 2020 Jan 27. pii: bjgp20X708161. doi: 10.3399/bjgp20X708161. [Epub ahead of print]

Opportunistic screening versus usual care for diagnosing atrial fibrillation in general practice: a cluster randomised controlled trial.

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Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht.
Department of Cardiology, Martini Hospital Groningen; assistant professor, Department of Cardiology, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen.



Atrial fibrillation (AF) increases the risk of stroke, heart failure, and all-cause mortality. AF may be asymptomatic and therefore remain undiagnosed. Devices such as single-lead electrocardiographs (ECGs) may help GPs to diagnose AF.


To investigate the yield of opportunistic screening for AF in usual primary care using a single-lead ECG device.


A clustered, randomised controlled trial among patients aged ≥65 years with no recorded AF status in the Netherlands from October 2014 to March 2016.


Fifteen intervention general practices used a single-lead ECG device at their discretion and 16 control practices offered usual care. The follow-up period was 1 year, and the primary outcome was the proportion of newly diagnosed cases of AF.


In total, 17 107 older people with no recorded AF status were eligible to participate in the study. In the intervention arm, 10.7% of eligible patients (n = 919) were screened over the duration of the study year. The rate of newly diagnosed AF was similar in the intervention and control practices (1.43% versus 1.37%, P = 0.73). Screened patients were more likely to have comorbidities, such as hypertension (60.0% versus 48.7%), type 2 diabetes (24.3% versus 18.6%), and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (11.3% versus 7.4%), than eligible patients not screened in the intervention arm. Among patients with newly diagnosed AF in intervention practices, 27% were detected by screening, 23% by usual primary care, and 50% by a medical specialist or after stroke/transient ischaemic attack.


Opportunistic screening with a single-lead ECG at the discretion of the GP did not result in a higher yield of newly detected cases of AF in patients aged ≥65 years in the community than usual care. For higher participation rates in future studies, more rigorous screening methods are needed.


atrial fibrillation; diagnosis; electrocardiograph; older people; pulse; screening

[Available on 2021-01-28]

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