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Patients used to rely entirely on their primary care doctors’ referrals when they needed to see cardiologists and other heart and vascular care specialists. These days, thanks to the internet, patients have access to more data than ever before when they’re making critical healthcare decisions. In fact, there’s so much data that it’s easy to have information overload. What data are available about hospitals’ cardiology quality and safety? How do providers use these data to improve their care? And how can you use this information to make the best decisions possible about your cardiology care?
What cardiology quality and safety data are available?
"What’s past is prologue,” as William Shakespeare wrote. What the Bard meant is that the best way to guess the future is to look at what’s happened in the past. That’s why outcomes data, or data about the end results of patients with particular conditions or who have had particular treatments, are so important in evaluating healthcare providers. Consumers can get an idea of how their care should look from that provider based on how the provider has cared for patients previously.
Clinical data are the most reliable form of cardiology outcomes information patients should look for. These data are collected during medical treatment, either during regular doctor/patient visits or as part of a clinical trial. After identifying information about specific patients is removed, the data are shared with national registries, which are archives dedicated to information for a specific medical discipline or, in some cases, specific conditions.
MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute, which operates throughout the MedStar Health system, reports our clinical data to a number of national organizations, such as the Society of Thoracic Surgeons and the American College of Cardiology. Nurses verify our information before it’s submitted to make sure it’s accurate. You can find key clinical information about hospitals you’re considering with the American College of Cardiology’s Find Your Heart a Home search tool and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons’ public reporting scores. In fact, MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute’s cardiac surgery program earned the highest quality rating of three stars from the STS.
Our cardiology data and how we constantly improve
Internally, we track and measure many aspects of our patients’ care. We do this to see which management and care procedures are working, which ones aren’t and where we need to make adjustments. We’re constantly improving our overall care by looking at this information. For example, rather than sending our doctors and nurses all over the hospital to care for many patients, as we used to do and as many other hospitals still do, we’ve reorganized into specific teams that work in specific places. This helps us track the effectiveness and outcomes of each team over months and years. Our data tracking and the procedures we’ve standardized as a result have led to patients getting care even faster for cardiac arrest, as well as shorter, more efficient inpatient stays to get patients home faster.
One important goal of inpatient heart care is to send patients home from the hospital as healthy as possible. We monitor the mortality rate of patients who are admitted to MedStar Washington Hospital Center to receive bypass surgery or who come in with decompensated heart failure, which is a sudden worsening of heart failure symptoms. Our mortality rates in these cases are significantly better than the average among U.S. hospitals, and we continually work to improve them. Your heart doctor or care team can share these and other measurements, known as metrics, with you to help you make more informed decisions about your care.
We use these clinical data to improve the quality of the care we provide for patients staying with us who need electrophysiology and cardiac catheterization services. We’ve created a team, including a cardiac surgeon, an interventional cardiologist, an electrophysiologist, and other experts, that can be at a patient’s bedside within five minutes to diagnose and treat emergencies. That’s improved outcomes for our patients. We’re the only area hospital that has received the American College of Cardiology’s maximum performance ratings for electrophysiology and cardiac catheterization.
Using healthcare data to choose heart and vascular care
Despite the amount of data available on heart and vascular care at major hospitals like ours—and more becoming available all the time—data alone aren’t yet enough to replace that first step of asking a provider you trust. It’s nearly always a good idea to start with your primary care doctor, who should know the details of your condition and your unique needs. They should be able to point you toward specialists with particular expertise.
Your friends and loved ones also can help in this area by sharing information on the patient experience. Does the doctor you’re considering thoroughly explain the options to patients and family members so they can make informed decisions? Are the nurses caring and attentive? Would you trust this team with your life if you needed more care? The answers to these questions and more can help you narrow your options.
When you hear good things about several doctors or hospitals from people you trust, seeing great outcomes information or that a hospital treats many patients with your condition each year may help tip the scales in favor of one option. It’s not likely that every aspect of your particular condition or situation will be reflected in the data, but the information is another important piece of the puzzle you’re putting together.
Choosing whom to trust with potentially lifesaving heart or vascular care is a huge decision. Along with trusted advice from professionals and loved ones, today’s wealth of information gives you more tools than ever to help you make informed decisions about your health.