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Much of heart care focuses on the “what”—the diagnosis, treatments and outcomes. But just as important to consider is the “who,” as in who is providing your care. When it comes to advanced heart disease, we’ve found that a team approach to heart care can make a world of difference in patient outcomes and satisfaction.
When my patients meet our dedicated heart team, I tell them that they’re joining a family—their heart team family—who will help manage their condition for the rest of their lives in coordination with their local family doctor or cardiologist. Each member of your heart team has a unique role, and we collaborate to provide care that focuses on each patient’s overall well-being, not just their heart condition.
LISTEN: Dr. Thourani discusses heart teams in the Medical Intel podcast.
Assembling your heart team
The concept of a dedicated team for heart care has changed quite a bit in the last 10 to 15 years. While team-based treatment has been part of cancer care and organ transplants for some time, it’s a more recent addition to heart care. Early heart teams were mainly for heart failure patients and consisted of a cardiologist and a surgeon. Today, we use a team-based approach for a wide variety of heart conditions, including coronary artery, aortic, and heart valve diseases. The core members of a patient’s heart team are typically a:
- Noninvasive cardiologist, who focuses on diagnosing heart problems and treating them without invasive procedures
- Invasive cardiologist, who focuses on minimally invasive or transcatheter procedures
- Echocardiographer, who uses ultrasound to examine the heart
- Cardiac surgeon, who focuses on minimally invasive or standard open surgical procedures
- Advanced practice clinician (APC), such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant
We also bring in additional team members, depending on a patient’s special needs or circumstances. We’re fortunate to have access to world-class experts in all aspects of health care, so we can call on colleagues within minutes to see patients. Some of the experts with whom we may consult include:
- Nephrologists to address kidney problems that may be related to a heart condition, such as renal artery disease
- Neurologists to help care for patients who have suffered a stroke or who have dementia
- Pulmonologists to address respiratory issues or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Related reading: The need for fast stroke care–and why some patients don’t get it
This team approach, bringing in experts from many medical disciplines, means you have access to multiple doctors’ experience and expertise. We all discuss your case and consider care plans based on your particular needs, whether they’re the traditional standard of care or new, innovative therapies. We have relationships with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), so we can offer treatment options that are available only at a few select centers nationwide.
Getting comfortable with your heart team
In my experience, patients love having a dedicated team for their heart care. It’s easy to feel lost in the shuffle of today’s healthcare system, when you see one doctor on one visit, and you might see another doctor on another visit. Our goal is to help you feel comfortable as part of the team.
Your heart team ensures that you’ll always see providers you know and trust. Our nurse practitioners and physician assistants play a tremendous part in making that happen. The APCs are almost an extension of me in the exam room, and their knowledge is unbelievable.
You’ll always see #heart providers you know and trust when you’re cared for by a #heartteam. via @MedStarWHC bit.ly/2rsSxxl
Having MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute within MedStar Washington Hospital Center and MedStar Union Memorial Hospital gives us the opportunity to concentrate on heart patients and all aspects of their care. With all of us working together as a team, we can manage and treat even the most challenging heart conditions and improve the quality of our patients’ lives.