Researchers led by UCLA have found that while changes in the treatment for the most common form of heart attack have led to higher survival rates among men and women regardless of age, race and ethnicity, more could be done to improve on how the treatment guidelines are applied among specific patient groups.
The researchers reviewed records for 6.5 million people who were treated for heart attacks between 2002 and 2011. The analysis was among the first and largest national studies to assess the impact of the trend toward more aggressive care for patients who experience the type of heart attack known as non-ST elevation myocardial infarction, or NSTEMI. Their findings are reported in the current online edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Heart Association. "The substantial reductions in in-hospital mortality observed for NSTEMI patients nationwide over the last decade reflect greater adherence to evidence-based, guideline-directed therapies," said Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, the study's senior author and UCLA's Eliot Corday Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Science. "Nevertheless, there may be further opportunities to improve care and outcomes for patients with NSTEMI, who represent the greater proportion of patients presenting with myocardial infarction," said Fonarow, who also is director of the Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
This strategy had been evolving since 2009 following publication of the Timing of Intervention in Acute Coronary Syndromes trial. Previously, the recommendation was to begin catheterization in high-risk NSTEMI patients within 48 hours. Fonarow and his colleagues examined trends in the use of cardiac catheterization for people who had been hospitalized after suffering an NSTEMI, within 24 hours and within 48 hours of presentation, seeking to determine whether changes in their care may have resulted in better outcomes. The researchers analyzed publicly available records from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, the largest U.S. database of hospitalized individuals. Of the 6.5 million patients whose records they examined, 3.98 million were admitted to hospitals with NSTEMI diagnoses. The study tracked the proportion of those patients who underwent cardiac catheterization each year, and their outcomes — how many died in the hospital, the average length of their hospital stays, and the cost of hospitalization. They found that as the trend toward earlier intervention in NSTEMI patients took hold — with doctors beginning treatment within 24 hours after patients arrived at the hospital, rather than within 48 hours — the rate of in-hospital death declined from 5.5 percent in 2002 to 3.9 percent in 2011. Improvements were found for men and women, older and younger patients, and across all races and ethnic groups. In addition, the average length of patients' hospital stays decreased during the decade-long study, from 5.7 days to 4.8 days. NSTEMI patients who underwent cardiac catheterization within the first 24 hours had the shortest average stays. Although more NSTEMI patients in all demographic groups received early cardiac catheterization as the study progressed, there were still significant differences across age, gender, and racial and ethnic groups in how frequently early intervention was used. Men, for example, were more likely to receive earlier catheterization than women. "Despite the improvement, there are significant differences in the age-, gender-, and ethnicity-specific trends in the use of invasive management of NSTEMI, and these findings may help guide further improvements in care and outcomes for male and female patients of all ages, races and ethnicities," said New York Medical College's Dr. Sahil Khera, the study's first author. "Further efforts are needed to enhance the quality of care for patients with NSTEMI and to develop strategies to ensure more equitable care for patients with this type of heart attack."