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A converstation with... Christopher Bunn, DO and Tami Collins, DNP

Thursday, August 12, 2021

A group photo of the Augusta Health Cardiology Heart Failure Clinic.

Augusta Health Cardiology Heart Failure Clinic

Heart failure sounds scary—as if your heart no longer works and nothing can be done. It’s failed.

What heart failure really is: Heart failure is a progressive condition that occurs when the heart can’t “keep up” with the body’s need for blood and oxygen. Eventually, as heart failure worsens, the person may experience symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, swelling or a racing heart beat that sends them to seek care at their doctor’s office or the Emergency Department. It is a serious condition, and there is no cure, but much can be done to manage heart failure and help those with the diagnosis live a full and happy life.

And that’s the work of Augusta Health’s Heart Failure Clinic, supervised by Dr. Christopher Bunn and coordinated and staffed by Dr. Tami Collins.

“Heart failure is a growing concern for us at Augusta Health, as it is all over the county,” says Dr. Bunn. “It’s the fastest growing diagnosis for those with coronary artery disease and the primary reason for hospital readmission within 30 days. It impacts many, many patients. So we implemented the outpatient Heart Failure Clinic to provide focused attention, frequent follow-up and a primary point of contact for our patients with heart failure.”

“An important reason for our Heart Failure Clinic is that heart failure is a chronic condition. It’s something patients need to learn to manage for the rest of their lives,” adds Dr. Collins. “It’s also a bit of a tricky syndrome. You make a management plan, and heart failure finds a way around the plan. So we consistently and constantly work with our patients to make adjustments to medication, schedule an echocardiogram or other diagnostic procedure or connect with another physician for a catheterization or electrophysiology study—whatever they need to manage their condition.”

New patients at the Heart Failure Clinic start out with frequent appointments as their condition is diagnosed and the management plan is developed and adjusted. Collins and her staff also provide patient education as well as equipment for those with financial need to use in their homes for self-management. The equipment is provided through a grant from the Augusta Health Foundation.

“Educating our patients about heart failure and self-management is crucial to their success,” says Collins. “We teach them to weigh themselves daily and to take a daily blood pressure. We also set up pill boxes to help them keep their medications in order. We advise them on lifestyle changes. Our goal is to help everyone be proactive to manage heart failure, so we don’t have to be reactive.”

If patients notice anything out of the ordinary, they call the Heart Failure Clinic for immediate care or intervention. This close, supportive working relationship creates a lot of trust between the patients and providers at the Heart Failure Clinic—providing a great benefit to the patients and great success to the Clinic.

“The processes in the clinic are very holistic and inclusive; it’s a multi-disciplinary team and the patient is a key part of, and the center of, the team,” notes Bunn. “At the beginning of the relationship, the focused attention of the Clinic staff allows us to see patients every week. This is needed because the medication dosages can change frequently as we are finding the right combination. Then, as the patient becomes more confident in self-management, the appointments are a bit less frequent—but the Heart Failure Clinic staff is always available by phone.”

“With the patient, we all work to improve the quality of his or her life, and to keep them from being readmitted to the hospital, and we’ve been successful at that. Our 2019 readmission data revealed a lower rate of readmission for patients who participated in the Heart Failure Clinic when compared to those who did not,” adds Collins.

The Heart Failure Clinic has been accredited by the American College of Cardiology (ACC). “The accreditation is the mark of a high-functioning program and organization,” says Bunn. “It speaks to the high quality, evidence-based care patients receive at Augusta Health’s Heart Failure Clinic.”

“We are very proud of this accreditation,” adds Collins. “Accreditation is always a rigorous process, and we achieved this during a pandemic. It was an amazing experience. A large interdisciplinary team really worked together to meet the standards. It was a 100% effort by all—just like the effort we put in to caring for each patient.”

Augusta Health Heart Failure Clinic

Augusta Health Heart & Vascular Center

78 Medical Center Drive

Fishersville, VA 22939

(540) 245-7080

Monday through Friday

8:00 am – 4:30 pm