A Self-Management Support Intervention for Patients With Atrial Fibrillation: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial

Background: Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common arrhythmia worldwide. Despite effective treatment, it is characterized by frequent recurrences. Optimal therapeutic management of AF requires active participation and self-management from patients. Two major components of self-management are self-monitoring and sign-and-symptom management. Pulse self-palpation (PSP) is a method of self-monitoring; however, not all AF patients are capable of successfully performing PSP. Due to a lack of interventions on this topic, a nurse-led intervention for patients with AF (PSPAF intervention) was developed to foster self-monitoring and to enhance self-management through PSP. The purpose of this pilot study was to test the acceptability, feasibility, and potential effects of this intervention on the capability of patients’ PSP and sign-and-symptom management. Moreover, we aimed at gathering data on the feasibility of applied research methods to aid in the design of future studies.

Methods: The pilot trial involved 20 adult patients with AF, randomized to an intervention or usual care group. At baseline and during a home visit 3-5 weeks later, we collected data using questionnaires, checklists, field notes, a mobile ECG device, and a diary. Acceptability and feasibility measures were validated through predefined cut-off points. Effect size estimates were expressed as relative risks (RR) and the number needed to treat (NNT).

Results: The PSPAF intervention seemed feasible, but only partly acceptable. There were limitations in terms of potential effectiveness, suitability, addressing participants’ willingness to implement its content in daily life, and adherence. Estimations of effect sizes suggest a large effect of the intervention on patients’ PSP capability (RR = 6.0; 95% CI = [0.83, 43.3]; NNT = 2.4), but almost no effect on sign-and-symptom management (RR = 1.5; 95% CI = [0.7, 3.1]; NNT = 4.0). The feasibility of applied research methods showed minor limitations on recruitment and participant burden.

Conclusions: Despite some limitations, the intervention seemed to be applicable and promising. Taking into account the suggestions and amendments we have made, we recommend conducting a full-scale trial to examine the efficacy of the PSPAF intervention.