Chest pain is the most common symptom associated with a heart attack. It is also one of the most common reasons people seek care in the Emergency Department at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
For this reason, New Hanover Regional has opened a specialized six-bed Chest Pain Center within the last year to better serve those patients who are not having an acute cardiac event, but still need close medical attention. These low- to intermediate-risk patients with chest pain can be moved away from the hustle and bustle of the ED to a separate, more comfortable area with heart monitoring equipment for further observation.
“The rapid diagnosis of coronary artery disease is a very important issue. With this unit we’re able to triage these patients and give them a more comfortable environment for observation and testing,” said cardiologist Dr. Linda Calhoun. “We’re treating patients in a very efficient manner. It’s been good because we’ve been able to pick up patients who are having heart attacks at an earlier stage.”
Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the center is staffed with physicians and nurses specifically trained in cardiac care. The Chest Pain Center also offers fast access to cardiovascular tests, such as nuclear stress testing. This streamlined process helps prevent unnecessary hospitalizations for patients whose symptoms turn out to be unrelated to heart problems.
Manager Tom Curley, RN, said people in the Chest Pain Center are considered outpatients and generally do not stay longer than 24 hours. The unit is specifically for those with lower risks of coronary artery disease, while those at high risk are admitted immediately to a telemetry bed or the Coronary Care Unit.
"One of the benefits of the Chest Pain Center is that the nurses obtain and conduct serial blood testing right in the unit instead of sending it to the lab, which can potentially shorten a patient’s time spent at the hospital," said Curley. "In the past, these patients would have been admitted as an inpatient for several days or they would have spent a long time being observed in the Emergency Department. Now they can be treated in a dedicated, specialized unit, which frees up resources in the ED and elsewhere in the medical center.”
Dr. Sam Spicer, vice president of medical affairs, said the desire to provide more specialized care led to the decision to create a chest pain unit at New Hanover Regional.
“The reason is better patient care. Period.” said Spicer, also an emergency medicine physician. “It allows for this special group of patients to have better focus on them and a better pathway to finding out if they have heart disease or not.”
Patients in the Chest Pain Center also receive information about heart healthy living. And when discharged, they are given clear instructions regarding activities, medications and any other considerations relating to their medical conditions.
Each patient is also given instructions to make follow-up appointments with his or her physician. The results of tests performed while in the Chest Pain Center may be obtained by the patient’s primary care physician’s office.