Raising community awareness about recognizing heart attack symptoms is part of a comprehensive effort to improve outcomes, according to officials with Baptist Health Paducah's chest pain center.
"Over time, we've clearly realized as a system of care related to heart attack management that time is muscle," according to Dr. Craig Beavers, Baptist Health's cardiology services director, meaning the longer it takes to get treatment, the more damage can occur to the heart muscle.
"We have national standards and metrics that we try to maintain to get patients through the process as quickly as possible. That way we can open up their blood vessel and re-establish blood flow," he said.
Amy Osbron, RN, is the hospital's chest pain and STEMI (ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction) coordinator, responsible for coordinating the quality of care around emergent heart attack management.
"Our goal is obviously to make the community aware of early signs so they can come in and get treatment because the quicker they can come in and get treatment, it improves their health care outcome," she said.
Oftentimes, the first point of contact for a heart attack patient is with EMS (emergency medical services).
"We want to reduce the amount of time from when they get here (hospital) to get them the best treatment we can," Osbron said.
"Some of the EMS agencies will send the patient's EKG ahead of time. We can alert our teams and have our people in place very quickly. Once they have their procedure, they can go to the in-patient floors and we can follow up to make sure they get their medications that they're going home with.
"And, we can make sure their cardiac rehabs and follow-ups are in place. So there's a lot of moving parts that they go through from the very beginning even before they get to the hospital."
Another part of Osbron's job is community outreach.
"It's finding different ways to get out there," she said. "We'll go to OB-GYN offices and talk about how women's pain (symptoms) is different. We go to the senior citizens' health fair, we'll talk to high-school-age kids ... try to reach every age group."
Symptoms can seem minor, such as feeling a little fatigued or thinking it may just be heartburn. They can also be more severe, "like an elephant sitting on your chest."
None should be ignored. Patients should never try to drive themselves to the hospital, or "wait till tomorrow" to see if things improve, according to Beavers.
"Even if you're not 100% sure, it's better to get them (the symptoms) checked out," he said. "You never want to second-guess yourself and put yourself in a situation where it's either too late or do anything to make it worse.
"It's kind of like when you drive your car and your car gives you a signal (check-engine light) that maybe you need to get something checked. You may find that it's not a big deal, or you may find it to be catastrophic."
The chest pain center at Baptist Health Paducah was recently accredited for the fifth consecutive cycle, as a Version 5 full chest pain center from the American College of Cardiology.
Baptist Health Paducah became the region's first accredited chest pain center in 2008 and has maintained the standards for re-accreditation four times since then.
"We're trying to make sure that we provide the best care through technology, clinical pathways and protocols," Beavers said.
The goal is to make sure that Paducah is a regional cardiovascular center that can take care of all the different cardiovascular needs of area patients.
"We have the infrastructure and the cardiologists and providers that are trained to do more advanced procedures and do them safely," he said.
"We're the longest-running, continuously accredited chest pain program within the region.
"And, we want to make sure that people are aware of that and they can feel comfortable that they don't need to go two hours away (to get treatment)."