EHRA’s President-Elect, Professor Hein Heidbuchel (Antwerp University, Antwerp, Belgium), shares how he set out on the road of electrophysiology, the appeal of the EHRA presidency and why he thinks the Association is ready to take on the challenges of the next few years.
What attracted you to the field of electrophysiology?
I have been lucky to have had very complementary and wonderful mentors. Professor Edward Carmeliet got me into the field of cellular electrophysiology, amazing clinicians bridged the path to the clinic and, finally, Professor Warren Jackman was my greatest mentor. For me, the great attraction of clinical electrophysiology is that it combines patient care and high tech. I am fascinated by the many developments in this fast-moving field and it is very satisfying to see that it all leads back to the patients and how we can make their lives better.
What is your greatest achievement in electrophysiology?
This would have to be my contribution to the understanding that arrhythmias in athletes may often be caused by sport itself and that the right ventricle is the Achilles’ heel of the athlete’s heart. Exercise is healthy for the cardiovascular system, so it was groundbreaking to discover that the heart can also develop its own sport-related injuries.
Why do you want to take on the EHRA presidency?
I have been active in EHRA for a long time and I am a great supporter of what the Association stands for. It is crucial for arrhythmologists to have a strong society that provides education, certifies quality, stimulates research and advocates the field to policy makers. This is what EHRA does so well. To make this happen, many volunteering colleagues collaborate, contribute and share responsibility. It is very rewarding to have the honour to guide and harness all this creativity!
What opportunities and challenges do you see for EHRA in 2018–2020?
There are a great many opportunities for EHRA during this time. But most start from challenges! I think the main challenge for the near future is shrinking budgets. We are not used to that… Cuts in healthcare expenditure globally will be exacerbated by reductions in industry sponsorship, enforced by the newly revised MedTech Europe code, and also by the adoption of originally successful EHRA projects by the ESC.
I am confident that diminishing budgets will motivate EHRA to seek out new sources of revenue. Now is the time to venture more into internationally funded research programmes—such as the EU’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Medicines Initiative—in which EHRA has already had successes. It is also the ideal chance for EHRA to reorganise in order to improve efficiency, and to better define our priorities. EHRA can integrate more with EP national cardiac societies and arrhythmia working groups, setting up joint projects. These will not only reinforce ties but may lead to cost and revenue sharing. And we need to foster relationships with partner organisations across the world to address challenges on an international scale, leading to improved educational and research opportunities for all electrophysiologists around the globe.
Other opportunities for change will further strengthen the role of EHRA in the field. In addition to education and certification, where it already performs well, EHRA can more fully explore advocacy at a national and EU level. It has to highlight the added value of modern electrophysiology to patient care and ensure adequate respect and funding for what we do in our daily practice. And I also see the need for creating implementation programmes, in which we give our members more practical advice about restructuring care, such as establishing clinics for syncope or atrial fibrillation, or about advocacy issues at a local or national level.
Finally, we have to make it clear that EHRA is no exclusive club. EHRA is an association for every colleague. We need the volunteering energy of many! In the coming years, I particularly want to encourage greater involvement of women, young electrophysiologists, and colleagues from less-well-represented countries in the committees and working groups. In that way, we can make sure that we are addressing the needs of all our members and building the future of a ‘more than European’ Heart Rhythm Association.
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