Column: How Teamwork Saves Lives

Column: How Teamwork Saves Lives

— Earlier this year, I shared some of Inova Alexandria Hospital’s successful efforts to improve quality of care for heart attack patients. Now I am proud to report that our work has been recognized at the national level. The hospital recently received a Bronze Award from Mission: Lifeline, the American Heart Association’s initiative to encourage prompt, appropriate treatment of patients with the most severe type of heart attack in which all coronary arteries are blocked.

For these patients, swift action is key. The faster they receive life-saving balloon angioplasty to open blocked arteries, the better their chance of survival. The AHA and others recommend door-to-balloon (D2B) time at 90 minutes or less.

The Inova Heart and Vascular Institute at Inova Alexandria Hospital has been working diligently to improve its D2B times. We upgraded and expanded our Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiology (CVIR) Department. Our Emergency Department (ED) and CVIR staff developed joint protocols to quickly identify and treat heart attack patients within the nationally recommended goals. And we became the first hospital in Northern Virginia to collaborate with EMS providers in the field to flag incoming heart attack patients.

First responders from the City of Alexandria’s EMS perform an EKG at the scene and transmit the results via ambulance computer to the ED where a physician makes a diagnosis. If the patient is having a heart attack, the hospital is able to mobilize the CVIR team and prepare an angioplasty lab before the ambulance even arrives. This seamless continuum of care has helped us reduce our D2B times — already significantly below the 90-minute threshold — from 65 minutes back in February to an impressive 61 minutes today.

Such outstanding results would not be possible without the collaboration and communication of our dedicated ED physicians, interventional cardiologists, CVIR staff and the City of Alexandria’s EMS providers. They have worked hard to break down barriers, build trust, and find new ways to improve care and save lives.

The work continues. We review every heart attack case for areas of improvement, participate in a national database that shares best practices for reducing D2B, and partner with AHA’s Mission: Lifeline to create even more efficient systems of care. Together, we can make a significant difference for heart attack patients in the Alexandria community.

To learn more about this exciting work, as well as the full spectrum of cardiac services we offer, visit