Heart Attacks: Improving Response Time

04/30/2013
Photo: Heart Attack

By using process improvement strate-
gies, physicians were able to reduce the response time during severe heart attacks; © panthermedia.net/Toni Annett Kuchinke

Recent study finds that door-to-balloon times can be lowered using process improvement strategies.

A ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) is a severe type of heart attack that occurs when a blockage in a coronary artery causes heart muscle to die; without prompt treatment risk of fatality increases dramatically. Coronary angioplasty, or percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), is the most common emergency treatment for STEMI. During this procedure, an interventional cardiologist feeds a deflated balloon into the artery to the blockage where it is then inflated to open the artery and allow blood to flow to the heart muscle. Current clinical guidelines recommend that PCI be performed for STEMI within 90 minutes of the patient entering the hospital – this is commonly referred to as door-to-balloon time. Recognizing the potential to save even more lives with expedited treatment, Northwestern Medicine researchers applied performance improvement strategies to lower door-to-balloon times at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, with the goal of creating an approach that could be applied to hospitals across the country.

"Despite the current recommended 90 minutes, studies show that survival for STEMI patients decreases when door-to-balloon time exceeds 60 minutes," said principal investigator medical doctor Rahul Khare, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "While some hospitals across the country achieve times under 60 minutes, there's still room for improvement. The objective of our study was to put in place process improvements that would optimize door-to-balloon times not only at Northwestern Memorial, but that could be replicated elsewhere. The goal was to reduce door-to-balloon times to 60 minutes for STEMI patients."

Khare and his team utilized a proactive risk assessment method of failure mode, effects and criticality analysis (FMECA) to evaluate door-to-balloon time process at Northwestern Memorial. Pulling together a group that included emergency department and cardiac catheterization laboratory (cath lab) staff, as well as hospital leadership, the researchers mapped out the process from when a STEMI patient arrives in the emergency department to when PCI occurs in the cath lab.

"FMECA is a commonly used risk-assessment technique that has proven successful in high risk industries including nuclear power and aviation," explained Khare. "We modified this technique to fit a clinical setting. Our team included everyone who would respond when a patient with a STEMI arrives at the hospital– emergency physicians and nurses, EKG technicians, and the entire cath lab team from cardiologists to nurses, and even the secretary who answers the phone and takes the patient's information. Together, we were able to identify and evaluate 50 potential issues that could lead to a failure in achieving the goal door-to-balloon time of 60 minutes."

By identifying risks and implementing changes in process, the team achieved significant improvements in door-to-balloon times. "Our door-to-balloon times decreased by an average of 20 minutes," said Khare. "We saw the most significant and sustained benefits during off hours, which include overnights and weekends. Door-to-balloon times improved by 25 percent. What is truly amazing is that the 15 to 20 minute improvement in door-to-balloon time will decrease the overall death rates of these patients."

MEDICA.de; Source: Northwestern Memorial Hospital