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Study finds safety improvements for angioplasty at small hospitals

While angioplasty is referred to as an elective surgery, it is a serious procedure that often needs to be performed in a large hospital. Previously, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology have recommended that angioplasty patients go to larger hospitals in case something goes wrong during the angioplasty. This recommendation was due to the fact that larger hospitals often had a heart surgery center on site that could help in the event of a surgical error. This recommendation effectively ruled out many small hospitals in rural areas for some patients.

Many patients living in rural areas in Georgia and across the country have been hesitant to travel long distances for surgery at an unfamiliar hospital. However, the results of a rigorous study released recently by the AHA looked more closely at the risks of medical malpractice at smaller hospitals.

Angioplasty is a complex surgery that is intended to open clogged arteries with a balloon or stent. More than 1 million Americans require angioplasty each year. The AHA study shows that many patients can now feel confident in choosing a smaller community hospital for angioplasty. Those participating were no more likely to need heart surgery following angioplasty in small facilities than those who went to larger hospitals.

While many cardiologists prefer a hospital environment that is prepared with heart surgery equipment, most people feel more comfortable in familiar surroundings or hospitals that are close to home. The results of this study seem to indicate that patients can now feel more comfortable having angioplasty performed, knowing the procedure can be done by hometown doctors just as safely as it can be done in larger city hospitals.

However, this does not mean that every hospital and every doctor is qualified to perform angioplasty procedures. Hospitals involved in the study spent a considerable amount of time and effort in establishing adequate safety procedures and finding surgical personnel with the necessary experience to perform angioplasty.

Source: USA Today, "Angioplasty patients fare well at smaller hospitals," Liz Szabo, Nov. 13, 2011

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