A nuclear camera recently installed at Phoebe Cardiology Associates, is used to detect cardiac blockages, are among the methods available now to help find and treat problems in a person’s heart. Experts say that, 30 years ago, a heart attack was an event likely to result in death or disability. Now, heart attack patients are expected to be in the hospital for just two days and be back to work in roughly a week.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Over the last few decades, there have been advancements made in various specialties of medicine that many physicians didn't expect.
Cardiology is no exception.
According to data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 600,000 people die from heart disease in the United States every year. It remains the leading cause of death for both men and women.
That provided all the incentive needed to raise the standard of care in a specialty that once used primarily aspirin and beta blockers as standard patient treatment.
"Basically, there were no other therapies other than just medication 30 years ago," said Dr. Mark Cohen with Phoebe Cardiology Associates. "We have a huge number of patients (utilizing other methods of treatment) that would have previously gone to surgery.
"We have gone to nothing to having a lot of options."
The death rate for heart attacks in 2008, according to the CDC, was at 25 percent -- with resources allowing for a quicker response time resulting in better outcomes in the long run for patients. The development of open heart surgeries, angioplasties and defibrillator technology to help those who would have otherwise died have a chance at a productive life later on are contributing to the overall advancements in care.
Over the past few decades, the incidence rate for heart attacks has fallen by half, experts say.
"Everything that has been developed was to help the patients," Cohen said. "We can now repair problems and get people back to being healthy.
"The level of care has been dramatically altered and disease has been prevented."
Dr. Jeffery Hoopes, having arrived in Albany and established Phoebe Cardiology Associates in 1982, has been called by his colleagues as the father of cardiology in Southwest Georgia. In that capacity, he has been instrumental -- officials say -- in spearheading initiatives to help improve patient outcomes, such as the utilization of electrocardiogram machines in regional ambulances for the first time.
While reflecting on the developments over the last 30 years, he described the process as "evolutionary."
"The best change is that deaths have decreased," he said. "A heart attack 30 years ago would usually result in disability or death. Now you only miss a week or so of work.
"There has been remarkable improvement. We can do remarkable things now that we couldn't 30 years ago."
While advances are being made in terms of patient care for heart disease, Hoopes said one of the biggest challenges may be prevention by battling the origins of the problem -- which occur outside the hospital's walls.
"The challenge is for a population to change its lifestyle," he said. "Obesity is the biggest challenge. It is an epidemic.
"Ideally, people should change their lifestyle. It is best not to have a disease, but it is like saving for retirement -- you don't often think about it."
Additional statistics from the CDC show that, every year, about 935,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of those, 610,000 are a first heart attack, while 325,000 heart attacks happen in people who alreayd have had one. Coronary heart disease alone costs the nation $108.9 billion each year, including the cost of health care services, medications and lost productivity.