Medical Device Daily Washington Editor

NEW ORLEANS – Rhythm often comes to mind when you think of New Orleans – smooth jazz, the upbeat tempo of a Dixieland band or the unique sounds of zydeco.

But this week, rhythm in the Big Easy isn’t only about the music as the 26th annual scientific sessions of the Heart Rhythm Society (HRS; Washington) get under way today.

“Trying to get our arms around all the disorders of the heart is an exciting adventure,” Dwight Reynolds, MD, first vice president of HRS and program chair of this year’s meeting, told Medical Device Daily.

The theme of the gathering, being held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center alongside the Mississippi River downtown, is “Mending Broken Hearts: Managing the Rhythm of Life.” The society expects more than 10,000 to attend sessions between today and the close of the conference on Saturday.

Reynolds, who also is chief of cardiology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (Oklahoma City), said this year’s meeting would broaden the society’s focus in some important areas, one of those being its international scope.

“We’ve always felt we were an international society, but we’re moving toward a more international status,” he said. “That is particularly reflected in our recent name change.” At last year’s meeting, the organization reported plans to change its name from the North American Society for Pacing and Electrophysiology and move its offices to Washington from Natick, Massachusetts. The meeting in New Orleans is the first official event since the switch to the new moniker.

More than 600 faculty members from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and more than 70 foreign countries will make presentations, Reynolds said. He said there is “heavy attendance” from Europe and Asia, and increased turnout from South America and Africa.

In addition to expanding its international reach, this year’s conference also will pay more attention to economic issues.

“We are trying to expand and improve our science, while at the same time focus on economic issues and value for business,” Reynolds said. “We have under-attended to the issue of economics at a professional level.”

He said some of the “hot topics” for this meeting would include scientific sessions and presentations on atrial fibrillation with particular emphasis on ablation.

Implantable cardiovascular technology and expanded applications also made Reynolds’ list. He said sessions would examine recent studies into implantable defibrillator technology in patients with cardiac failure to prevent sudden cardiac death.

Another area of heightened interest, he said, is cardiac resynchronization therapy, and new study data in that field will be prominently featured in HRS sessions.

A new feature of this year’s program will be case-based tutorials. Formatted much like clinical tutorials from past meetings, case-based sessions will – as the name implies – be based only on real case data and experience.

“The use of case-based training is extremely popular in business schools and will provide a unique approach,” Reynolds said.

The opening plenary session speaker on Thursday will be Ian Morrison, a medical futurist who predicts trends in healthcare. His talk will focus on the quest for value in medicine. Mark McClellan, MD, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS; Baltimore), was slated to give the plenary address, but was unable to attend.

Other highlights include “Meet the Expert” sessions and a “town hall” meeting with representatives from the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, Maryland), the FDA and CMS, which will cover the “economic, regulatory, and political realities” of the sector, Reynolds said.

As usual, there will be a number of abstract presentations. The society has been “dazzled” by the number of submissions this year, Reynolds said.

Traditional attendance at HRS meetings in the past has included electrophysiologists, cardiologists and heart failure specialists, Reynolds said, but that has expanded.

“The whole area lends itself to involvement by allied professionals – nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants – involved in implantable device follow-up,” he said. “I’m excited about all of it.”

The meeting in New Orleans already has surpassed registration for the 2003 meeting in Washington, which was the society’s goal, Reynolds said.

Last year’s program in San Francisco experienced record attendance, according to Reynolds, in part because of the society’s 25th anniversary celebration. He said organizers would not know until later in the week whether they topped the 2004 attendance figure.