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Heart attack register needed to improve care

SYDNEY 6 August 2012. Australian hospitals treat 55,000 heart attack patients a year, but the Heart Foundation is warning that little is known about whether people are receiving the best quality of treatment and care.

Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia today, Heart Foundation cardiologist Professor Derek Chew calls for the introduction of a national heart attack register to continuously track and monitor cardiac services.

“An Australian has a heart attack every ten minutes and yet we know very little about the quality of treatment they receive once they’re in hospital – it’s like driving a car without a speedometer,” said Professor Chew.

“Having a comprehensive national heart attack register would tell us whether people are getting the right tests and the right procedures at the right time.

“Crucially it would also help us identify high risk patients who are falling through the cracks of the current system and help us track people in the event of a device failure or recall,” he said.

A heart attack happens when there is a sudden complete blockage of an artery that supplies blood to the heart. If blood flow to the heart is restricted, the heart muscle begins to die and after two hours that damage may be irreversible.

“Cardiologists can restore blood flow by inserting a balloon into the artery, but survival rates are highest when this happens within 90 minutes of the patient arriving at hospital,” he added.

“We believe that this critical ‘door-to-balloon’ time of less than 90 minutes is only achieved in around 40 per cent of heart attack cases.

“A comprehensive national register would give us greater insight as to what causes these potentially life-threatening delays and whether certain groups or locations are more affected.

“Without this ongoing monitoring or feedback, we cannot possibly know whether we’re delivering a good service for heart attack patients,” Professor Chew said.

Existing data only reflects the experiences of around one per cent of patients and usually doesn’t include higher risk groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.