When we think of advances in technology, we often think of better cell phones, televisions, computers and social media sites that allow us to connect to friends and family in new ways. That same kind of innovation is connecting patients to more advanced cardiac treatments that weren’t available here in Maine just a few years ago, allowing people to recover closer to their families.
Those advances are apparent at Maine Medical Center’s electrophysiology program (EP), the first and last stop for patients who need advanced cardiac treatment. The EP lab has undergone a significant expansion in the past five years, driven by both improvements in technology and an increase in the number of Mainers seeking care close to home.
MMC’s EP Medical Director Andrew Corsello, MD, said he can literally see the improvement in technology. “We can now see the electrical system of a patient’s whole heart in 3D,” Corsello said. “It’s just like your TV. We thought we had a clear picture before, but it was blurry.”
It isn’t just the pictures that have become more precise. Researchers have made breakthroughs in complex procedures, leading to training and technology that, in some cases, have cut the time patients have to spend in surgery in half. Corsello, for instance, said he used to schedule seven hours for an AFib ablation, a procedure in which the surgeon sends electrical pulses and radiofrequency energy through a catheter to stop an irregular heartbeat. Now, patients are typically out of the electrophysiology lab in less than four hours.
“We used to have to send people to Boston for procedures we now do regularly at MMC,” Corsello said. “Patients needing leadless pacemakers, ventricular ablations and laser lead extraction can now stay in Maine rather than travel to Boston.”
Maine also has had an increase in the number of people seeking cardiac care. Part of that is because people are living longer. Maine’s population also tends to be older and heavier than it once was. Age and weight are risk factors for heart disease. The EP lab recently hired three new world-class physicians and now does more procedures than anywhere else in Maine.
“We are constantly sharing scientific papers with each other and seeking professional development opportunities so that we stay up to date on the latest advances in technology,” Corsello said.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the commitment of the lab to working as a team, ensuring patients receive personalized care.
“People come to MMC’s electrophysiology team for a program, not a procedure,” said Jill Knutson, the EP lab’s program manager. That means that some patients undergoing complex procedures may have a navigator assigned to them, leading them through the whole process. Others receive regular follow-up phone calls.
“We don’t want patients to feel like they’ve had surgery and that’s it,” Knutson said. “It’s important to us that patients feel supported throughout their entire journey.”