NHRMC provides faster care for heart attacks

January 03, 2007
Less than a week before Christmas, paramedics called the Emergency Department at New Hanover Regional Medical Center to let them know they were bringing in a patient who was having a heart attack. The patient’s cardiologist was called in and the catheterization lab was readied. Within 15 minutes of his arrival, the patient was in the catheterization lab and the procedure to open his blocked artery was underway.

The patient benefited from a system known in the medical center as “Code STEMI.” Code STEMI is an alert system that quickly notifies the emergency room physician, cardiologist, and cardiac interventionist about a patient whose electrocardiogram (EKG) shows a heart attack is in progress.

Getting a patient with a heart attack to treatment quickly is a high priority because when a heart attack begins, it’s only a matter of time before permanent damage is done to the heart muscles.

“Studies show that the quicker you get to the intervention, the better the outcome,” said Kevin Potts, MD, emergency physician at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

With Code STEMI, the standard time to treatment has gone from 120 minutes to 90 minutes or less. But the goal is to cut the time even further.

Janet DeLucca, Manager of NHRMC’s catheterization lab, says a group of physicians and staff studies each Code STEMI case to look for ways to speed the process.

“Members of the cardiac and emergency department teams meet monthly to keep the lines of communication open. That’s the key to making the whole program work,” she said.

The team closely examines every step in the process of getting a patient ready for a procedure. Now, instead of waiting for a room in the emergency department to be opened so a patient with chest pain can have an EKG, technicians will meet the patient in the waiting room so they can perform the EKG sooner.

Dr. Potts, who has been involved in setting up the Code STEMI procedures, says cooperation among the cardiologists practicing at the hospital has also made a difference.

“The cardiologists agreed to standardize their protocols and medications so it’s easier for staff to know what is needed for a procedure,” he said.

In the past, each cardiology group had different protocols, so the staff had to take time to figure out what was needed.

Major medical groups, such as the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, are advocating hospitals across the county adopt measures similar to those in place at New Hanover.

In November, researchers at Yale University released a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that said only 35 percent of hospitals regularly achieve national goals for rapid treatment.

Study author Elizabeth Bradley, Ph.D. concluded, “If we can get all hospitals to implement these strategies, we can definitely improve heart attack care and save lives.”

If you would like more information on the heart program at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, visit www.nhrmc.org/heart.