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Patients' Hearts Front and Center

Nov 15, 2007 5:00 PM

Specialists provide full regimen of care at new Cardiovascular Center

Monitoring her arrhythmia used to take too much of Marjorie Kitchen's time and energy. She would see her cardiologist, Roger A. Freedman, M.D., at University of Utah Hospital. But some of the tests the Woods Cross, Utah, woman needed periodically were available only in a separate clinic in nearby Research Park. If she needed to see another specialist, that required yet another appointment at another clinic.

That was before University Health Care opened the Cardiovascular Center in University Hospital last fall. A spacious suite of patient exam and special procedure rooms, physician consultation areas, and nursing station, the center brings together specialists who once practiced in separate clinics and seldom interacted with each other into a central location to treat the full spectrum of cardiovascular diseases--from clogged arteries and failing hearts to leaky valves and irregular heartbeats.

Although she's always been happy with her care, Kitchen welcomes the consolidation of services into a single clinic. "I used to go to [University Health Care's] Red Butte Health Center in Research Park to get tests, but would have to see my doctor over in the hospital," she said. "Having everything in a single location makes it a lot easier."

That's an important part of why the cardiovascular center is unique in Utah, according to Freedman, professor of internal medicine at the School of Medicine and the center's medical director. But patients benefit from more than convenience when services are consolidated. Practicing in the same clinic fosters collaboration among doctors, nurses, and technicians from various specialties, so patients receive total care for their cardiovascular-related problems.

"It's the only outpatient clinic in Utah where specialists work elbow-to-elbow in cardiovascular care," Freedman said. "We give a 360-degree evaluation of the patient."

Freedman recalled a recent patient who'd sought a second opinion after being told he needed two operations--one on his carotid artery and another on his heart. Freedman examined the patient, ran tests, and then walked down the hallway to consult with one of the center's vascular surgeons. By the time the patient left the clinic that day, Freedman and the surgeon had determined he didn't need either operation. If cardiovascular services hadn't been in the same clinic, the patient probably wouldn't have had his questions answered so quickly by two specialists.

"I was able to talk with a vascular surgeon in real time, and we coordinated a huge amount in just a few hours," Freedman said. "Next week, I might need to talk with a heart surgeon or interventional radiologist, and they'll be right here."

Located on University Hospital's main floor, the cardiovascular center has a staff of 100, including some 30 physicians, specializing in cardiology, heart imaging, vascular and heart surgery, interventional cardiology, and interventional radiology. Tests, imaging, and patient procedures are performed at the center, offering some of the most advanced radiology equipment.

Ivor J. Benjamin, M.D., professor of internal medicine and chief of cardiology at the School of Medicine, believes the University's cardiovascular center represents an overdue shift in preventing, diagnosing, and treating cardiovascular disease: the nation's leading cause of death.

"We just can't keep doing things the same way as before," he said. "The concept here is rather than taking patients to the services, we want to take services to the patients."

Benjamin, who holds the Christi T. Smith Endowed Chair in Cardiology Research, believes the University's mission as an academic medical center is to find new ways to benefit patients through research and its clinical application. Through affiliation with the School of Medicine and University Hospital, the cardiovascular center meets both missions by giving physicians and other health-care providers access to the latest research, and by offering consolidated clinical services in ways other hospitals can't, according to Benjamin.

He has high goals for the center. "We want this to be the destination point in the Intermountain West for cardiovascular services," Benjamin said. "This is all centered on the patient."

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