To assess the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and demand in Ontario for catheter ablation of complex arrhythmias guided by advanced nonfluoroscopy mapping systems. Particular attention was paid to ablation for atrial fibrillation (AF).
Tachycardia refers to a diverse group of arrhythmias characterized by heart rates that are greater than 100 beats per minute. It results from abnormal firing of electrical impulses from heart tissues or abnormal electrical pathways in the heart because of scars. Tachycardia may be asymptomatic, or it may adversely affect quality of life owing to symptoms such as palpitations, headaches, shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, and syncope. Atrial fibrillation, the most common sustained arrhythmia, affects about 99,000 people in Ontario. It is associated with higher morbidity and mortality because of increased risk of stroke, embolism, and congestive heart failure. In atrial fibrillation, most of the abnormal arrhythmogenic foci are located inside the pulmonary veins, although the atrium may also be responsible for triggering or perpetuating atrial fibrillation. Ventricular tachycardia, often found in patients with ischemic heart disease and a history of myocardial infarction, is often life-threatening; it accounts for about 50% of sudden deaths.
Treatment of Tachycardia
The first line of treatment for tachycardia is antiarrhythmic drugs; for atrial fibrillation, anticoagulation drugs are also used to prevent stroke. For patients refractory to or unable to tolerate antiarrhythmic drugs, ablation of the arrhythmogenic heart tissues is the only option. Surgical ablation such as the Cox-Maze procedure is more invasive. Catheter ablation, involving the delivery of energy (most commonly radiofrequency) via a percutaneous catheter system guided by X-ray fluoroscopy, has been used in place of surgical ablation for many patients. However, this conventional approach in catheter ablation has not been found to be effective for the treatment of complex arrhythmias such as chronic atrial fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia. Advanced nonfluoroscopic mapping systems have been developed for guiding the ablation of these complex arrhythmias.
Four nonfluoroscopic advanced mapping systems have been licensed by Health Canada:
CARTO EP mapping System (manufactured by Biosense Webster, CA) uses weak magnetic fields and a special mapping/ablation catheter with a magnetic sensor to locate the catheter and reconstruct a 3-dimensional geometry of the heart superimposed with colour-coded electric potential maps to guide ablation.
EnSite System (manufactured by Endocardial Solutions Inc., MN) includes a multi-electrode non-contact catheter that conducts simultaneous mapping. A processing unit uses the electrical data to computes more than 3,000 isopotential electrograms that are displayed on a reconstructed 3-dimensional geometry of the heart chamber. The navigational system, EnSite NavX, can be used separately with most mapping catheters.
The LocaLisa Intracardiac System (manufactured by Medtronics Inc, MN) is a navigational system that uses an electrical field to locate the mapping catheter. It reconstructs the location of the electrodes on the mapping catheter in 3-dimensional virtual space, thereby enabling an ablation catheter to be directed to the electrode that identifies abnormal electric potential.
Polar Constellation Advanced Mapping Catheter System (manufactured by Boston Scientific, MA) is a multielectrode basket catheter with 64 electrodes on 8 splines. Once deployed, each electrode is automatically traced. The information enables a 3-dimensional model of the basket catheter to be computed. Colour-coded activation maps are reconstructed online and displayed on a monitor. By using this catheter, a precise electrical map of the atrium can be obtained in several heartbeats.
A systematic search of Cochrane, MEDLINE and EMBASE was conducted to identify studies that compared ablation guided by any of the advanced systems to fluoroscopy-guided ablation of tachycardia. English-language studies with sample sizes greater than or equal to 20 that were published between 2000 and 2005 were included. Observational studies on safety of advanced mapping systems and fluoroscopy were also included. Outcomes of interest were acute success, defined as termination of arrhythmia immediately following ablation; long-term success, defined as being arrhythmia free at follow-up; total procedure time; fluoroscopy time; radiation dose; number of radiofrequency pulses; complications; cost; and the cost-effectiveness ratio.
Quality of the individual studies was assessed using established criteria. Quality of the overall evidence was determined by applying the GRADE evaluation system. (3) Qualitative synthesis of the data was performed. Quantitative analysis using Revman 4.2 was performed when appropriate.
Quality of the Studies
Thirty-four studies met the inclusion criteria. These comprised 18 studies on CARTO (4 randomized controlled trials [RCTs] and 14 non-RCTs), 3 RCTs on EnSite NavX, 4 studies on LocaLisa Navigational System (1 RCT and 3 non-RCTs), 2 studies on EnSite and CARTO, 1 on Polar Constellation basket catheter, and 7 studies on radiation safety.
The quality of the studies ranged from moderate to low. Most of the studies had small sample sizes with selection bias, and there was no blinding of patients or care providers in any of the studies. Duration of follow-up ranged from 6 weeks to 29 months, with most having at least 6 months of follow-up. There was heterogeneity with respect to the approach to ablation, definition of success, and drug management before and after the ablation procedure.
Summary of Findings
Evidence is based on a small number of small RCTS and non-RCTS with methodological flaws.
Advanced nonfluoroscopy mapping/navigation systems provided real time 3-dimensional images with integration of anatomic and electrical potential information that enable better visualization of areas of interest for ablation
Advanced nonfluoroscopy mapping/navigation systems appear to be safe; they consistently shortened the fluoroscopy duration and radiation exposure.
Evidence suggests that nonfluoroscopy mapping and navigation systems may be used as adjuncts to rather than replacements for fluoroscopy in guiding the ablation of complex arrhythmias.
Most studies showed a nonsignificant trend toward lower overall failure rate for advanced mapping-guided ablation compared with fluoroscopy-guided mapping.
Pooled analyses of small RCTs and non-RCTs that compared fluoroscopy- with nonfluoroscopy-guided ablation of atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter showed that advanced nonfluoroscopy mapping and navigational systems:
Yielded acute success rates of 69% to 100%, not significantly different from fluoroscopy ablation.
Had overall failure rates at 3 months to 19 months of 1% to 40% (median 25%).
Resulted in a 10% relative reduction in overall failure rate for advanced mapping guided-ablation compared to fluoroscopy guided ablation for the treatment of atrial fibrillation.
Yielded added benefit over fluoroscopy in guiding the ablation of complex arrhythmia. The advanced systems were shown to reduce the arrhythmia burden and the need for antiarrhythmic drugs in patients with complex arrhythmia who had failed fluoroscopy-guided ablation
Based on predominantly observational studies, circumferential PV ablation guided by a nonfluoroscopy system was shown to do the following:
Result in freedom from atrial fibrillation (with or without antiarrhythmic drug) in 75% to 95% of patients (median 79%). This effect was maintained up to 28 months.
Result in freedom from atrial fibrillation without antiarrhythmic drugs in 47% to 95% of patients (median 63%).
Improve patient survival at 28 months after the procedure as compared with drug therapy.
Require special skills; patient outcomes are operator dependent, and there is a significant learning curve effect.
Complication rates of pulmonary vein ablation guided by an advanced mapping/navigation system ranged from 0% to 10% with a median of 6% during a follow-up period of 6 months to 29 months.
The complication rate of the study with the longest follow-up was 8%.
The most common complications of advanced catheter-guided ablation were stroke, transient ischemic attack, cardiac tamponade, myocardial infarction, atrial flutter, congestive heart failure, and pulmonary vein stenosis. A small number of cases with fatal atrial-esophageal fistula had been reported and were attributed to the high radiofrequency energy used rather than to the advanced mapping systems.
An Ontario-based economic analysis suggests that the cumulative incremental upfront costs of catheter ablation of atrial fibrillation guided by advanced nonfluoroscopy mapping could be recouped in 4.7 years through cost avoidance arising from less need for antiarrhythmic drugs and fewer hospitalization for stroke and heart failure.
Expert consultants to the Medical Advisory Secretariat noted the following:
Nonfluoroscopy mapping is not necessary for simple ablation procedures (e.g., typical flutter). However, it is essential in the ablation of complex arrhythmias including these:
Symptomatic, drug-refractory atrial fibrillation
Arrhythmias in people who have had surgery for congenital heart disease (e.g., macro re-entrant tachycardia in people who have had surgery for congenital heart disease).
Ventricular tachycardia due to myocardial infarction
Atypical atrial flutter
Advanced mapping systems represent an enabling technology in the ablation of complex arrhythmias. The ablation of these complex cases would not have been feasible or advisable with fluoroscopy-guided ablation and, therefore, comparative studies would not be feasible or ethical in such cases.
Many of the studies included patients with relatively simple arrhythmias (e.g., typical atrial flutter and atrial ventricular nodal re-entrant tachycardia), for which the success rates using the fluoroscopy approach were extremely high and unlikely to be improved upon using nonfluoroscopic mapping.
By age 50, almost 100% of people who have had surgery for congenital heart disease will develop arrhythmia.
Some centres are under greater pressure because of expertise in complex ablation procedures for subsets of patients.
The use of advanced mapping systems requires the support of additional electrophysiologic laboratory time and nursing time.
For patients suffering from symptomatic, drug-refractory atrial fibrillation and are otherwise healthy, catheter ablation offers a treatment option that is less invasive than is open surgical ablation.
Small RCTs that may have been limited by type 2 errors showed significant reductions in fluoroscopy exposure in nonfluoroscopy-guided ablation and a trend toward lower overall failure rate that did not reach statistical significance.
Pooled analysis suggests that advanced mapping systems may reduce the overall failure rate in the ablation of atrial fibrillation.
Observational studies suggest that ablation guided by complex mapping/navigation systems is a promising treatment for complex arrhythmias such as highly symptomatic, drug-refractory atrial fibrillation for which rate control is not an option
In people with atrial fibrillation, ablation guided by advanced nonfluoroscopy mapping resulted in arrhythmia free rates of 80% or higher, reduced mortality, and better quality of life at experienced centres.
Although generally safe, serious complications such as stroke, atrial-esophageal, and pulmonary vein stenosis had been reported following ablation procedures.
Experts advised that advanced mapping systems are also required for catheter ablation of:
Hemodynamically unstable ventricular tachycardia from ischemic heart disease
Macro re-entrant atrial tachycardia after surgical correction of congenital heart disease
Atypical atrial flutter
Catheter ablation of atrial fibrillation is still evolving, and it appears that different ablative techniques may be appropriate depending on the characteristics of the patient and the atrial fibrillation.
Data from centres that perform electrophysiological mapping suggest that patients with drug-refractory atrial fibrillation may be the largest group with unmet need for advanced mapping-guided catheter ablation in Ontario.
Nonfluoroscopy mapping-guided pulmonary vein ablation for the treatment of atrial fibrillation has a significant learning effect; therefore, it is advisable for the province to establish centres of excellence to ensure a critical volume, to gain efficiency and to minimize the need for antiarrhythmic drugs after ablation and the need for future repeat ablation procedures.