According to a new study conducted by the United Hospital of St. Paul, Minnesota, if you are having a heart attack, patients get faster care and are more likely to survive if they are brought directly to a hospital "cath lab" instead of the hospital's emergency room. Within the cath lab, doctors can quickly open a patient's blocked arteries and vastly improve their chance of recovery. In fact, the study showed that taking a patient directly to a cath lab cut the time needed to treat a heart attack "from an average of 81 minutes to 36 minutes". Patients that went straight to the lab had only a 3.9 percent chance of dying, while those taken to the emergency room first had a 7.5 percent chance of dying.
Unfortunately, only a small fraction of hospitals have systems in place where patients can be brought directly to a cath lab. The "direct-to-cath lab" system relies on the hospitals having specially trained paramedics who can diagnose heart attacks without the help of emergency room doctors. Most hospitals, while they have been able to reduce their response times from 110 minutes to less than 80 minutes, do not have the resources to specially train paramedics or to have a cath lab in house.
Paramedics and cath lab doctors do have to be careful if it appears that the patient could be suffering from another medical condition such as a pulmonary embolism. These patients require extra testing to determine what medical action is needed.
I hope that more hospitals begin to explore the "direct-to-cath-lab" system. Employing such a system could help prevent countless deaths. Though it is still within experimental stages, this system should continue to be studied and tested. If you are at risk for a heart attack, check out your local hospital and find out whether they have a "direct-to-cath-lab" system. If you think you may be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately - only half of people having a heart attack call 911, and can wait up to two hours before seeking medical attention.