High-risk patients fare better when heart docs are out of town

If you have a heart attack, heart failure or cardiac arrest while your cardiologist is out of town at a major industry conference, no worries--you're actually more likely to live.

That is the conclusion of a study that appeared in the most recent edition of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study followed more than 29,000 frail patients who suffered heart attacks, heart failure or cardiac arrest patients covered by Medicare and hospitalized at 263 major teaching hospitals during two recurring annual cardiology conferences between 2002 and 2011. Those conferences are held by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and they tend to draw cardiac specialists from throughout the U.S.

The 30-day mortality rates for heart failure and cardiac arrest patients were signifiantly lower during conference days compared to three weeks before and immediately after those specific conferences. The mortality rates for those heart attack patients were about the same during conference and non-conference days, although patients were less likely to experience an angioplasty during the conferences.

The findings actually surprised the researchers, who assumed that the mortality rates would go up during conference dates because hospital staffs would be short-handed during those times. Predicting survival rates for such patients has become a nexus of technology research in recent years, while cardiac stress testing has tipped over into being overused.

"There's something very specific about cardiology meetings and cardiology outcomes," Anupam Jena, M.D., a professor at Harvard Medical School and the lead researcher of the study, told Kaiser Health News. "I can tell you with almost certainty that something different is happening in the hospital, but I can't tell you why this is happening."

The assumption now may be that aggressive treatments and interventions do not necessarily help frailer patients who are having cardiac issues, according to Kaiser Health News. "People should take away from this particular paper that they should be confident of going to a teaching hospital at any time of the year," Patrick O'Gara, M.D., president of the ACC, told the publication.

To learn more:
- read the study abstract
- check out the article

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