Heart attack risks are higher for hospitalized patients

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Heart attack risks are higher for hospitalized patients

Recent studies by prominent cardiologists prove that in-hospital patients have an increased chance of dying from a heart attack much higher than for emergency room patients. Recognizing a serious problem like this is the first step to finding a solution.

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The main problem, in a nutshell, is that a hospital is a bad place to experience a heart attack. This also is a source of significant legal activity, as survivors pursue Personal Injury lawsuits for wrongful death. The statistics are rather frightening, because the numbers of in-hospital patients dying from heart attacks is roughly three times higher than that for others who are treated in emergency rooms.

Legal Ramifications

Many factors contribute to this problem, which has been deemed avoidable by doctors who are working to solve this problem. Tim Henry, director of cardiology at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, cites two problems that contribute to this higher death rate for in-hospital patients. He acknowledges that those patients are higher-risk to begin with, but also that they receive what he terms suboptimal care. This is an important point to remember with regard to legal actions, as a personal injury lawsuit must show negligence or substandard care resulted in the injury or wrongful death.

What are some of the other factors that impact already hospitalized patients that put them at higher risk? A defense against wrongful death could include some of these points that recent studies have revealed:

  • Patients are older; more likely to be women
  • Patients already are sicker; their heart attacks are harder to recognize
  • While 65% of ER patients are treated to unblock arteries, only 22% of patients already hospitalized received that same treatment
  • Hospitalized patients may be sedated or taking pain-killers that make symptom diagnosis more difficult

The chance of a heart attack may be increased due to pre-surgery cessation of blood-thinning medicines

People who are hospitalized for surgical procedures or illnesses, such as hip replacements, pneumonia or cancer, are more likely to die from a heart attack that occurs while they are in the hospital. The legal aspect of this involves some or all of the above points, but the bottom line is that diagnosis is slower and treatment is delayed. The result is a higher death rate for people who have a heart attack while in hospital.

What Is Currently Being Done for Prevention?

Now that cardiologists have begun to recognize this problem as avoidable, some are taking pro-active measures for prevention or reduction of hospital patient heart attacks. A group of 12 hospitals is working to create new strategies that will speed up care to patients at risk or suffering heart attack symptoms. These hospitals are working to develop new cooperation between nurses in non-cardiac units and others, including rapid-response teams from catheterization labs. These new teams watch for symptoms that would warrant doing an ECG as a first line of defense.

The leader of the group effort, Sidney Smith, is a cardiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. According to this study, the hospitalized patients who died from a heart attack caused by a clot need faster treatment to save lives. When a clot blocks a major artery that brings blood to the heart muscle, cells die and the damage can easily become life threatening. These attacks are called STEMIs. This is an acronym for S-T segment elevated myocardial infarction, a name that refers to an electrocardiogram pattern that indicates total blockage.

If the patient is given an ECG and that test reveals major blockage, the hospital staff activates a plan that attempts to clear that blockage as fast as possible. Again, the hospitalized patients are at higher risk because they are already sicker than ER patients who come in with heart attack symptoms. The ER patients are likely to get faster attention and an ECG test than those who are in hospital for another illness, surgical procedure or disease treatment. Researchers found that it took roughly twice as long to get hospitalized patients a stent procedure that could save their life than it did for ER patients.

Legal Questions

The main legal questions to address are twofold:

  • Is hospital care suboptimal?
  • Are the delays that cause an increased death rate avoidable?

If true, is this negligent behavior? This would be an essential point to prove in a personal injury malpractice lawsuit. If you have clients or survivors of patients who died from an allegedly preventable heart attack while they were hospitalized, it is important to research all treatments that were given or not provided.

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