Bypass deaths down

    Healthcare improvement groups say better technology and public reporting of deaths has driven improvements in care.

    Heart surgery can be one of the scariest experiences for people. Patients at least can take comfort in a new report that shows the procedure is whole lot safer than it used to be.

    Listen: [audio:090806kgcardiac.mp3]

    Heart disease is the lead killer in the US, and the surgery to treat it can be fatal as well. A new report about Pennsylvania’s heart surgeons and hospitals finds cardiac bypass is considerably safer than it was a decade ago. In Pennsylvania, less than two percent of patients die each year after having bypass surgery to treat blocked arteries. Fifteen years ago, nearly twice as many people died. That’s according to the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council’s latest report. The Council’s spokesman, Joe Martin, says the number is even more impressive because fewer of these procedures are being performed.

    The lower risk patients are being funneled into cardiology procedures like angioplasty…So the patient population for open heart surgery is shrinking and it’s becoming more risky.

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    Kate Flynn is the President of the Healthcare Improvement Foundation, and wasn’t involved in the report.

    Advances in techniques and good outcomes are now possible on high risk patients. That wasn’t always the case 10 and 15 years ago. It’s certainly primarily the advances in technology and surgical techniques and general medical knowledge.

    Flynn says Pennsylvania’s early adoption of public reporting of surgical deaths has also spurred safety improvements at hospitals. The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania performed better than expected in 2007 on several procedures. Chief medical officer PJ Brennan says the hospital’s improvements are due to doctors coordinating care from the ambulance to the post-operative unit.

    I’m really proud of the fact that they’re willing to take the sickest of the sick and even prouder that they’re able to produce the kind of results that they do. And I think it’s because of the extraordinary teamwork that they have.

    Brennan says there’s still room for improvement in making sure patients don’t return to the hospital once they’ve been discharged. The report was released today by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.

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