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Aug 22, 2011

Faster Door-to-Balloon Time Improves Heart Attack Outcomes

U.S. hospitals providing faster emergency care for heart attack patients.

It is estimated that one million Americans suffer from heart attacks each year, and many do not survive. Fortunately, improvements in emergency care for heart attack victims has helped improve patient outcomes, reducing the number of deaths each year. One of these improvements is called “door-to-balloon” time — the time it takes for a heart attack patient to receive percutaneous coronary intervention, also known as balloon angioplasty, after entering the hospital. Reducing door-to-balloon time is crucial to improving outcomes for heart attack patients, as rapid care can increase their chances of survival and minimize long-term damage to the brain and heart.

Ideally, doctors would like all patients to undergo percutaneous coronary intervention within 90 minutes of entering the hospital, if not less. This procedure that opens up blocked arteries with a small inflatable balloon is most effective within this time frame before permanent damage has occurred to the body. But in 2002, only one-third of patients received percutaneous coronary intervention within 90 minutes — a statistic that healthcare providers have been trying to change over the years.

How are U.S. hospitals now measuring up to this goal? A recent study conducted by researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine shows promising results. For nearly 50,000 heart attack patients annually between 2005 and 2010, median door-to-balloon time decreased from 96 minutes at the end of 2005 to just 64 minutes in September 2010 — a reduction of 32 minutes. And most importantly, those with the longest median door-to-balloon times in 2005 — women, African Americans and those greater than 75 years of age — saw the greatest decline in median times.

Significant improvements in door-to-balloon time translate to improved outcomes for heart attack patients. Although additional action is needed to improve door-to-balloon time for those still not receiving appropriate care within 90 minutes, results are promising. Through continued improvement in guidelines and medical practices among healthcare professionals and hospitals, patients and providers should expect further improvements in door-to-balloon time and patient outcomes in coming years. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why does door-to-balloon time vary among patients?

  • Door-to-balloon time can vary for many reasons, such as availability of operating rooms and/or staff. Based on the size of a hospital, number of staff and influx of patients, the promptness of care can differ as a result of the hospital’s ability to meet the demand of patients.


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