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INTRODUCTION: Observational studies have demonstrated an association between use of digoxin and reduced interstage mortality after Norwood operation for hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS). Digoxin use has increased significantly but remains variable between different hospitals, independent of case-mix. Instrumental variable analyses have the potential to overcome unmeasured confounding, the major limitation of previous observational studies and to generate an estimate of the attributable benefit of treatment with digoxin.
METHODS: A cohort of neonates with HLHS born from 1/1/2007 to 12/31/2021 who underwent Norwood operation at Pediatric Health Information Systems Database hospitals and survived >14 days after operation were studied. Using hospital-specific, 6-month likelihood of administering digoxin as an instrumental variable, analyses adjusting for both unmeasured confounding (using the instrumental variable) and measured confounders with multivariable logistic regression were performed.
RESULTS: The study population included 5,148 subjects treated at 47 hospitals of which 63% were male and 46% non-Hispanic white. Of these, 44% (n=2,184) were prescribed digoxin. Treatment with digoxin was associated with superior 1-year transplant-free survival in unadjusted analyses (85% vs. 82%, p=0.02). This survival benefit persisted in an instrumental-variable analysis (OR: 0.71, 95% CI: 0.54-0.94, p=0.01), which can be converted to an absolute risk reduction of 5% (number needed to treat of 20).
CONCLUSION: In this observational study of patients with HLHS after Norwood using instrumental variable techniques, a significant benefit in one-year transplant-free survival attributable to digoxin was demonstrated. In the absence of clinical trial data, this should encourage the use of digoxin in this vulnerable population.