The American Heart Association (AHA) issued a scientific statement capturing the best practices for helping children with congenital heart disease successfully transition to adulthood and receive health care tailored to their needs as they continue to age. Ensuring a smooth and supported transition and establishing relationships with these young patients as they grow into adults is key to maintaining their engagement and connection to health care decisions that will improve their long-term health and well-being.
Anitha John, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Washington Adult Congenital Heart Program (WACH) at Children’s National Hospital and incoming chair of the AHA Young Hearts council, served as lead author on the statement, which provides the latest evidence-based best practices for a successful transition from pediatric care to adult care. This work is critical given that today, thanks to the tremendous advances in care and treatment of congenital heart defects in the last two decades, there are more adults living with congenital heart conditions than children.
What this means
The AHA describes a scientific statement as an “expert analysis of current research” that “can inform future care guidelines.” This scientific statement demonstrates the scientific evidence supporting what adult congenital heart specialists have advised for years—that making sure children with congenital heart defects continue to stay engaged in their care and actively seek out health care specialized for them as they grow through adolescence and into adulthood is critical. Keeping that connection plays a pivotal role in their overall quality of life as they age.
Why it matters
Treatments and care for children with congenital heart defects has improved so greatly that, according to the AHA, “most people born with heart defects today, including those with complex heart conditions, survive past childhood and become adults.” But the same care they received as children is not enough to address their needs as adults. Adult-oriented congenital heart care can be the difference between a long and healthy life or continued health challenges and dangerous side effects. Adults with congenital heart conditions should seek out care that serves them best, and it should be accessible to everyone who needs it.
By issuing this updated scientific statement, the AHA is broadcasting the important take home message that adults with congenital heart disease and their care providers need (and should seek) access to an adult-focused program with expertise in caring for the unique challenges they face. Establishing that connection at the transition point from adolescence to adulthood can set the stage for long term engagement and health.
Children’s National Hospital leads the way
As director of the WACH program at Children’s National, Dr. John is one of the nation’s experts in care for adults living with congenital heart disease. She also leads significant patient-centered research efforts focused on understanding barriers to care and other challenges faced by these adult heart patients, including serving as co-principal investigator on one of the largest patient-centered studies of adults living with congenital heart disease, supported by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). The findings from these studies will help fuel further recommendations and guidelines that will improve the standards of care for these patients.
Read the Scientific Statement from the Journal of the American Heart Association.