Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Better Heart Attack Care For All
A couple of points seemed especially interesting to me about treating heart attacks in time - a story I was researching for a piece on "Paula Zahn Now" for tonight...
The first one is the bad news: Currently, there's no reliable way for a patient to select a hospital that is trained to treat heart attacks and give emergency balloon angioplasties in under the recommended 90 minutes. Only a few hospitals in the country - 1/3 of them - treat at least half of their emergency angioplasty patients in under an hour and a half. Until U.S. hospitals uniformly adopt procedures to minimize the time spent on these patients and make these measures public, heart attack patients are taking a bit of a gamble when it comes to choosing a hospital . How do you know when the odds are going to be stacked against you?
The other part - the good news - is that hospitals that are learning and changing their procedures to treat heart attack patients quickly may not only help save an additional thousand lives in the ER every year, but they may actually be able to "erase" the heart attack altogether. Meaning in some cases, when hospitals manage to open up the arteries quickly (like, say, in under an hour), subsequent heart function tests may not show that there was any damage to the heart muscle, as if the patient had never had the heart attack in the first place! This translates to reduced risk of heart problems in the future, a quicker recovery time, as well as other long-term heart health benefits. And, most of the changes that need to be made are focused on how the cardiac treatment team communicates and organizes itself - so it's not going to cost a lot for hospitals to implement these systemic improvements.
With increased awareness on the part of the hospitals, and a few inexpensive changes in the ER, more Americans can live longer and healthier lives in the aftermath of a heart attack.
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