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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, June 18, 2017 1:00 am

Lutheran A-fib accredited

Technology discovers irregular heartbeats, which raise stroke risk

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

For patients suffering from medical conditions such as an irregular heartbeat and chest pain, a streamlined process is important.

That's why Lutheran Hospital sought and received an accreditation for atrial fibrillation with EPS, as well as an accreditation for its Chest Pain Center. EPS stands for electrophysiology study, which are tests that allow doctors to better understand irregular heartbeats.

Awarded on May 4, Lutheran said it became the first hospital in Indiana to receive an atrial fibrillation with EPS accreditation from the American College of Cardiology. Atrial fibrillation is a common condition in which a person has an irregular, often rapid, heartbeat. According to the College of Cardiology, about 5 million people nationwide have atrial fibrillation – a number expected to increase to 12 million by 2030. 

“An irregular rhythm of the heart was once thought to be benign but over years of study, we've found that it isn't benign and it needs to be addressed and fixed if it can be fixed,” said registered nurse Latesa Conley, chest pain coordinator at Lutheran Hospital. “It increases the risk of strokes by five times and that's huge.”

Lutheran Hospital sought the accreditation, Conley said, to find areas where the hospital's processes could be improved. That's the goal with any accreditation, Conley said. 

“We collect data, review charts, reach out to the community and try to do education,” Conley said. “With atrial fibrillation with EPS, we're looking at how we can reduce stroke in our community and how people can get their irregular heartbeat treated.” 

Many people don't get treated until the condition becomes a nuisance, Conley said, but time is of the essence. 

“If we can get people in within 48 hours (of noticing an irregular heartbeat) and it is atrial fibrillation, we can use electro-cardio to get the heart back into rhythm,” Conley said. “A lot of the time people present to us much later than 48 hours and then we run into a lot of complications.” 

If an irregular heartbeat is caught in time, medical professionals can use a defibrillator to shock the heart back into the correct rhythm. If too much time has passed, a patient will have to be admitted to the hospital and the procedure must be done in a more controlled environment. 

Part of the reason Lutheran Hospital sought the accreditation is that it plans to join the American Heart Association's new atrial fibrillation initiative this month. Lutheran Hospital is one of 10 facilities in Indiana chosen for the initiative. 

“Indiana, Ohio and Illinois have been deemed high atrial fibrillation areas in the country,” Conley said. “The goal is to reduce re-admission rates by 2 percent with these patients. We'll be doing a lot of education and providing resources they need so they don't keep returning to the hospital with complications.” 

The atrial fibrillation accreditation isn't the first certification related to the heart Lutheran Hospital has received. In March 2016, the hospital was granted an accreditation for its Chest Pain Center. That accreditation, Conley said, covers chest pain and resuscitation. 

“Resuscitation is the most advanced part of it,” Conley said. “We're looking at people who have chest pain and look at risk stratification.” 

For patients complaining of chest pain, medical professionals at Lutheran Hospital follow a protocol to determine the cause of the pain and determine treatment. The most serious cause of chest pain is called a segment elevation myocardial infarction, Conley said. Those patients are admitted and brought into a catheterization lab, where doctors will search for whatever is causing the clot. 

Lutheran Hospital has a 24-hour catheterization lab, Conley said, again noting that immediate attention is crucial.

“Time is muscle,” Conley said. “Any delay in any of these processes, the heart is dying. Heart muscle does not regenerate.” 

Lutheran Hospital first became an accredited chest pain center in 2004. The requirements to maintain that accreditation change often, Geoffrey Thomas, Lutheran Health Network public relations supervisor said. 

“To the benefit of the patient and also testament to the skill of the nurses and physicians and people providing care, they're doing this every single day,” Thomas said. “A lot of the accreditations have become harder. They add a new twist to it, a new level of expertise, so it's a little more difficult to go up the ladder.”

Pushing that expertise further and continuing to streamline processes is important when combating heart disease, Conley said. Anything less can be fatal.

“In America, heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women, and 80 percent can be prevented,” Conley said. “You can take all of the different cancers combined and heart disease still outranks them in death.”

dgong@jg.net