Cost-effectiveness of Screening for Atrial Fibrillation: My MPhil Journey at AusHSI

By Ureni Halahakone, AusHSI MPhil Scholar

Ureni Halahakone Blog

Towards the end of my postgraduate degree at QUT, I had the chance to intern at a renowned healthcare organisation. My internship project aimed to evaluate the quality of healthcare provided by the organisation using different datasets. This internship ignited a spark of curiosity in me. I wanted to learn more about how important healthcare decisions were made, and how policymakers prioritised investment in different healthcare programs or interventions. As I looked for opportunities aligned with my research interests, my course coordinator introduced me to AusHSI. After working at AusHSI as a research assistant, I applied there to study a Master of Philosophy.

At the beginning of my MPhil journey, I was apprehensive about whether I’d be able to keep up with such a fast-moving and highly skilled research environment. But with the amazing support of my colleagues at AusHSI, who go out of their way to help new students and staff, I am confident about how my research skills are shaping up.

My research focuses on evaluating the cost-effectiveness of screening to identify patients with previously undiagnosed atrial fibrillation (AF) in Australia. AF is the most common clinically presented arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) in the world and it greatly increases the risk of stroke, heart failure and other cardiovascular-related complications. However, due to its asymptomatic nature, it is often not detected or treated early. Cardiovascular health guidelines recommend opportunistic screening of people above 65 years of age and those who are presenting symptoms using pulse-palpation and 12-Lead Electrocardiograms. However, these only provide a snapshot of an individual’s cardiac rhythm at a single point in time. Although frequent testing is needed to identify intermittent dysrhythmias (irregular heart rhythm), the implementation of this has higher cost implications on the health system. Even though numerous studies have been conducted to compare the cost-effectiveness of AF-screening, the results are mixed as the data used reflect implementation across a range of different health systems and organisations.

My research will consider a comparative analysis of existing international AF screening strategies, their relatability to the Australian health system, and assess the cost-effectiveness of different AF screening strategies in Australia. Through this research, I hope to inform policymakers on the benefits of effective AF screening strategies and facilitate healthcare decision-making around the implementation of these strategies in Australia.

Over the past few months at AusHSI I’ve had the opportunity to participate in skill-development workshops, present at the Atrial Fibrillation Symposium and Impact Makers Conference, and engage with AusHSI projects as a research assistant. These opportunities have helped me sharpen my communication and writing skills, build networks, and develop both professionally and personally, for which I am truly grateful.