Dual cardiac programs could lead to heartbreak

April 24, 2013 

Health care is an important concern for all citizens, and we must demand both the highest and safest level of quality care.

Fortunately, French Hospital Medical Center is one of the nation’s top 100 hospitals (from nationally recognized independent sources such as Health-Grades, Leapfrog and Truven Health Analytics), an amazing honor that lends even more significance to living in such a breathtaking region.

As French Hospital board members and physicians, we are privileged to offer high-quality care to all residents. But the quality of the county’s outstanding health care is in danger of diminishing.

We understand that Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center plans to launch a cardiac program anchored by cardiologists and surgeons from outside our community. While we agree that competition is good in most cases, this type of duplicative competition in a county as small as ours will be detrimental to our patients and the community.

French Hospital has earned a Center of Excellence designation for cardiac care, but for any cardiac center to receive this designation it must have a high volume of cardiac procedures. We believe two cardiac centers in a small community will prevent both facilities from receiving this type of designation in the future. This would be devastating for our community. It really is a matter of life or death.

Here are some important facts to consider:

• Cardiac services are 80 percent saturated in our county, meaning that there simply are not enough people here to warrant another program, according to a recent study conducted by the nationally acclaimed McKinsey Group.

• The more a hospital performs a surgical procedure, the safer it is. Many reports dating as far back as 1979 identify a link between higher mortality rates (more deaths) and low surgical volume (less experience with a particular operation). (Risk Science Center, March 2012).

• Having a Center of Excellence helps with the recruitment and retention of highly trained and skilled physicians of all disciplines. Studies show that physicians seek areas that strive for quality and provide outstanding opportunities.

As a not-for-profit hospital, French Hospital is directly accountable to the community it serves. Volunteers and patient advocates make up our board of directors and promote patient safety to ensure that French provides the highest quality care possible. This is evident in the hospital’s almost 50 awards in patient safety and satisfaction and in recognition of excellent outcomes for quality patient care.

French Hospital has built the nationally acclaimed Copeland, Forbes and Rossi Cardiac Care Center and has been recognized as one of our nation’s top cardiac hospitals for the past six years, putting French in the top 1 percent to 2 percent of community hospitals in the nation.

Since opening its cardiac program in 1981, French has performed more than 35,000 cardiac procedures. This high volume has created an experienced, well-educated, local team that is prepared for any cardiac crisis.

What are we risking with a new cardiac program?

• We risk increasing health care costs locally. Duplication of services means a duplication of costly, highly specialized equipment, resulting in increased health care costs for the patient.

• We risk mediocre care and higher mortality rates. No one can be the expert if volume for any program goes down. With two programs, each team gets less experience. National data indicate mediocre care contributes to poorer outcomes in general and ultimately higher mortality rates.

• We risk losing our physicians. If overall quality care decreases or there is a loss of opportunity, physicians across disciplines might leave the area entirely.

• We risk losing a quality cardiac program. French Hospital has worked hard to become a Center of Excellence; it is not something that happens overnight, and the community has already invested too much in this program to let it fail now.

It’s simple: Two hospitals each with their own specialized cardiac programs in such a small community will increase local health care costs, reduce quality of care and hurt retention of our best and brightest physicians.

That’s a price too expensive to pay.

The authors are volunteer members of the French Hospital Medical Center Community Board. James Copeland is the current chair; Dr. Trees Ritter is chief of staff; and Dr. Ke-Ping Tsao is chair of the board’s Quality Committee.

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