St. Luke’s Medical Center, the first hospital in Arizona to offer a same-day coronary angioplasty through the radial artery in the wrist, is reporting significantly improved outcomes and cost savings for patients and the health system using the new artery access point. As a result, the less-invasive procedure is attracting national attention.
According to a national study from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, radial access could save hospitals across the U.S. more than $300 million each year due to the ability it gives hospitals and patients to have same-day surgical procedures.
St. Luke’s Medical Center is still one of few hospitals in the U.S. performing same-day cardiac catheterization using the radial artery as a standard practice. The endovascular procedure, which improves blood flow to the heart, is typically performed using the femoral artery in the groin as the more common point of access to diagnose and treat arterial diseases, including coronary artery disease and peripheral artery disease.
A growing number of hospitals across the nation are now rethinking how they approach cardiac catheterization, as the new artery access point has shown a marked difference in the recovery time, pain level, reduction in complications and overall better short- and long-term outcomes for patients.
“St. Luke’s Medical Center has one of the most unique catheterization labs in the state, which has allowed us to get ahead of the curve in offering a better patient experience with better patient outcomes,” said Dr. Richard Heuser, chief of cardiology at St. Luke’s Medical Center, who started conducting radial access catheterization in 1993. “As a result, both patients and the health care system are enjoying significant cost savings. Since we began offering the procedure in 2010, the hospital has seen upwards of $750,000 in annual health care savings.”
Heuser, a trailblazer in cardiology, identified the potential benefits early on and was among the first wave of cardiologists in the nation to begin using this innovative procedure. According to Heuser, the radial approach reduces complications by 80 percent compared to the femoral approach.
“Although we’re using more technologically-advanced catheters and equipment, the fact that we can offer a less-invasive procedure by going through the wrist means we can keep patients out of the hospital, reduce potential complications, and help them get on with their lives, all of which saves money for them and the health care system as a whole,” said Heuser.
Linda Sortor, one of Heuser’s patients, has already experienced the benefits. She considers her ability to walk out of the hospital on the same day of her procedure, with no external evidence of her surgery other than a small Band-Aid on her wrist, as a significant triumph. “I was back to normal the next day,” she said.
Cardiac catheterization is performed in more than 1 million U.S. patients a year in order to detect blockages in arteries and deploy stents to vessels that provide blood to the heart, particularly in patients with peripheral vascular disease and obesity. The American Heart Association estimates that 82 million American adults are living with some type of heart or vascular disease.
In the traditional approach, the cardiologist begins the procedure by inserting a catheter through the femoral artery in the groin. The catheter is then directed through the artery to the heart, where the cardiologist completes the procedure. Approaching through the femoral artery requires working through layers of muscle, which can increase the trauma to the patient’s body. Typically, patients are required to remain hospitalized overnight and must lie flat for several hours to prevent bleeding following the procedure. Because the femoral artery is large, if the resulting wound from the procedure accidentally opens up during the healing process, it can cause significant bleeding requiring medical intervention.
In the radial approach, the cardiologist inserts the catheter through the radial artery, a much smaller artery in the patient’s wrist. This artery is located close to the surface of the skin resulting in less trauma to the body during insertion. Because the radial artery is smaller and located in the wrist, it responds quickly to simple pressure. The technique has been associated with a fourfold reduction in major bleeding. Additionally, using the radial approach enables most patients to immediately get out of bed and move around following the procedure, which provides them greater comfort and a faster recovery period.
St. Luke’s Medical Center has a long history of innovation. It was the first hospital in Arizona to open a cardiac catheterization lab, and the first in the Valley to perform open heart surgery. St. Luke’s Medical Center is now one of only two hospitals in the state using radial access as its primary practice.