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Published on November 04, 2016

Teamwork Helps Cone Health Lead US in Heart Attack Recovery

Rapid response and coordination are key to top national ranking.

Collaborative Heart CareAfter a heart attack, survivors may worry that they’ll soon experience complications—or, worse, another heart attack—and end up right back in the hospital.

Fortunately, heart attack patients who are treated by the team at the Cone Health Heart and Vascular Center can rest easy and focus on moving ahead with life because of the Center’s collaborative approach to heart care.

Cone Health heart-care leaders credit their team-based approach and extraordinary commitment to quality standards for heart care as key reasons for achieving the nation’s lowest readmission rate for heart attack patients—a ranking based on data provided by more than 4,000 hospitals to the U.S. government’s Hospital Compare website.

The likelihood of a heart attack patient treated at the Cone Health Heart and Vascular Center suffering recurring symptoms or complications and returning to the hospital is nearly 30 percent lower than for a patient treated at the average U.S. hospital.

“To be No. 1 in this ranking is extremely significant because it requires excellence across many aspects of care,” says Thomas Stuckey, MD, director of quality at Moses Cone Hospital and chief of Cone Health’s LeBauer Cardiovascular Research Foundation. "The care has to be excellent initially, the patient has to go home and stay on the right medications, the follow-up has to be good, and each one of these things has to happen in order for that metric to be met."

And great care has a lasting impact. In fact, a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that getting heart attack care from a highly rated hospital can add a year to your life.

Secret ingredient: collaborative heart care

The secret to Cone Health’s success is teamwork. Treatment and recovery are viewed as everyone’s business, from the emergency medical services (EMS) teams to the emergency room staff to the physicians and nurses to the nutritionists and physical therapists to the patients themselves.

Time and communication are critical when a heart attack happens, and Cone Health specialists work to ensure that treatment starts as early as possible, often away from the hospital. Cardiologists work closely with EMS staff to immediately recognize subtle symptoms and quickly diagnose heart attacks. EMS workers then alert the emergency room, which pulls together a cardiovascular team and readies the catheterization lab so all treatment options are available as soon as the patient arrives.

Many of the nation’s best heart-care physicians and surgical care teams provide thousands of lifesaving heart treatments each year, right here at Cone Health in Greensboro. The Cone Health heart team has prioritized best-in-class quality in heart attack care. In fact, Triad Cardiac and Thoracic Surgeons and Cone Health’s Heart and Vascular Center earned three stars—the highest rating—in all three categories tracked by the Society for Thoracic Surgeons. Only a dozen heart programs in the nation matched this achievement.

Once the emergency is over, physicians set up a treatment plan, and the nursing staff begins educating patients. Rehabilitation starts within a day in the hospital’s top-rated cardiac rehab program, where nurses, physical therapists, dietitians and even former heart patients start working with patients to help them recover, gain strength and develop a heart-healthy lifestyle to reduce any future issues. The teamwork continues even when patients leave the hospital.

Staying in harmony

Coordination and consistency make all the difference, says Jake Hochrein, MD, medical director of the Cone Health Heart and Vascular Center. “We keep it simple, and everyone sings from the same hymnal,” he says. “The patient gets the same messages from everyone, so they know what they will need to do now and in the future to stay healthy and stay out of the hospital.”

For patients, this team approach to heart care does more than just help them recover physically. They also gain inner strength and confidence in their ability to live a full and normal life. Many, in fact, go on to be more active than they were before their heart attack.

“We empower patients,” Hochrein says. “We give patients the power that maybe they didn’t think they had before to really take control.”