New EP labs a preview of cardiac improvements to come

June 05, 2006
The opening of two new electrophysiology labs at New Hanover Regional Medical Center represents one of the many advances in the treatment of cardiac disease that is changing the future for patients with congestive heart failure and arrhythmias.

“There are now many things that can treat, reduce the effects of, and sometimes cure, chronic diseases such as congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation,” said William T. Smith IV, MD, a cardiologist with Coastal Cardiology Associates who specializes in electrophysiology. “Patients with those conditions have long been treated with medications that have lots of side effects. Now, they often can come off the meds after ablation or having a pacemaker or defibrillator implanted. That allows them to enjoy a much better quality of life.”

Dr. Smith described one patient who attended a NASCAR race in Rockingham after having a defibrillator implanted. The day was hot and the man and a friend were carrying a cooler through the parking lot. He passed out, then got up and went on in to enjoy the race. When Dr. Smith checked the man’s defibrillator the following month, he discovered that the man’s heart had actually stopped beating, causing him to pass out.

“His heart completely stopped there in the parking lot, the defibrillator restarted it, and he was able to go on and enjoy the race as if nothing had happened,” Dr. Smith said.

In an EP lab, physicians often implant devices such as pacemakers, which treat slow heart rates, or defibrillators, which treat fast heart rates. Another common procedure is invasive management and therapy for arrhythmias by ablation, which is using catheters in the heart to remove areas of tissue that cause abnormal heart rhythms.

The new labs, which replace a single lab, not only double the capacity for procedures, but offer new technologies that allow physicians to treat problems, such as atrial fibrillation, that they haven’t had the technology to treat before. An advanced fluoroscopy system uses less radiation, which is better for patients, physicians and staff. A new mapping system creates virtual 3D images of the patients’ heart, allowing physicians to better define and treat specific problems. Supplies are stored in a separate room between the labs for added convenience. And all equipment is the most modern available.

The new labs are part of the medical center’s overall master facilities plan that will consolidate heart and vascular services into one area with its own entrance and waiting area. When complete, the new heart-vascular services area will feature cath labs, the new EP labs, vascular labs and special procedure/radiology labs, with space between suites for shared resources. The new patient rooms will allow patients to be prepped and recover in the same room. It all works together to create a less stressful environment for patients and their families.

“We were very pleased to have been able to help design the new area,” said Janet DeLucca, manager of the Cath and EP labs. “Our staff and the physicians sat on the team with the architects and contractors so we could build in qualities that allow us to best take care of our patients.”

But the decision was made to immediately add the EP lab and not to wait for the overall construction project to begin. One reason was to ease the wait for patients needing an EP procedure, Smith said.

“Last fall I was having to tell patients I could get them in about six weeks,” he said. “That’s been reduced to about one week.”