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Choosing the Right Heart Screening Program

ATS HeartCheck

Screening youth for heart conditions is becoming more common around the country. You may have already been approached by organizations that offer a variety of heart screening options, all with very convincing statistics. There are, however, major differences that you should be aware of, and important questions you should ask when making the decision of which program you should use for your organization. The information below was obtained by addressing these very questions and relying on advice from some of the most respected heart programs in the U.S. including Johns Hopkins and Mayo Clinic. So what are the important factors to consider?

It all depends on how detailed a screening you want for your kids. As previously discussed, ECG screenings do not assess the entire heart, only the electrical system. Adding an echo to the screening process will provide much more comprehensive results. Most parents assume when they sign their child up for a heart screening, the entire heart is being evaluated including heart walls, coronary arteries, valves, etc. for underlying and undetected genetic, congenital, or acquired cardiovascular diseases. In addition, a statement from The Council for Cardiovascular Disease in the Young, of the American Heart Association (AHA), recognizes the importance of improving the detection of silent cardiovascular disease in children. The AHA suggests the following principles guide screening organizations and deserves careful consideration when picking a screening program:

  • Screening programs should be based on sound principles and should not be simply reactive to recent catastrophic events. A successful screening program does extensive planning and has written procedures and protocols.
  • Any broad screening strategy should be widely supported and available to all children. The AHA does not support screening strategies that are focused only on children who have the financial means to pay, leaving socioeconomically disadvantaged youths out of the process. This is especially true because studies suggest that certain groups may be at a higher risk of sudden death.
  • Screening programs must track their performance. At the very least, screening initiatives should record the proportion of positive screens and what follow-up was recommended. When possible, the collection of data on the follow-up of positive screens and the need for additional diagnostic studies is strongly encouraged.
  • Pediatric cardiovascular specialists need to be included in strategies because they look at youth cardiac disease differently. Each child’s heart is different and should be assessed that way.
  • Programs that promote robust screening methods should include Blood Pressure, ECG, and an Echocardiogram. While these programs usually have a higher cost, (usually $150), the value received is unsurpassed. Adding the Echo to the screening process eliminates guessing and potential follow-up testing a misinterpreted ECG can cause.
  • Programs should maintain electronic medical records and provide a detailed report of test results to the parent and their personal physician. They may even be able to assist with follow-up care guidance if requested.
  • Secondary prevention of sudden death with the training of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and deployment of automatic external defibrillators must be emphasized and supported by local entities such as school boards or state legislatures.

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