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AstraZeneca Medical Education Grants Office awarded  American Heart Association’s Mission: Lifeline Program and Duke University’s School of Medicine and School of Nursing a $3.5 million grant to improve systems of care for quickly treating heart attacks.

The project, Regional Systems Accelerator: Implementation of The American Heart Association’s Mission: Lifeline – AMI Discharge and Follow Up Demonstration Project, will focus on improving response, treatment and follow-up care for people who experience  an ST elevation myocardial infarction. This is the type of heart attack that occurs when a vessel supplying blood to the heart is suddenly and completely blocked.  Research shows that the sooner a blocked artery is re-opened, the more likely the patient will survive and the less severe their heart attack will be.

The initiative, announced Tuesday, will be carried out over the next two years in 14 areas of the country.  Metropolitan regions will be able to apply for a regional award. Acceptance will be announced in early March.  This project will build on the original STEMI ACCELERATOR project, which demonstrated that collaboration between paramedics and hospitals in treating heart attack patients resulted in shorter emergency department wait times that ultimately reduced death rates.

The new project will include care coordination during and after hospital discharge to help improve patient compliance with follow-up care and medication adherence.

“We are very excited to expand the reach of effective systems of care that have been proven to save lives in patients with STEMI,” said Elliott Antman, American Heart Association president, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a senior physician in the Cardiovascular Division of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “This integrated approach of helping patients receive STEMI care more promptly and improve the success of recovery is the obvious next step and we look forward to what this project can help us develop in terms of best practices in this area.”

Delays in opening the blocked arteries of the heart are primarily related to lack of coordination and diverse regional treatment plans among the 15,000 emergency medical services agencies and 5,200 acute care hospitals in the United States.

For example, only 17 percent of EMS agencies can pre-activate cardiac catheterization labs so that the hospital is fully prepared to open the blocked arteries when the ambulance arrives. While many single systems have an emergency protocol plan in place, coordinated regional responses to STEMI are uncommon.

“At AstraZeneca, our commitment to patients and science goes beyond the medicines we make.  In cardiovascular disease, we know care for patients who have experienced a heart attack requires a long-term approach, “ said Steve Zelenkofske, MD, vice president, US Medical Affairs, Cardiovascular.

“The Regional Systems Accelerator program will help inform the long-term care for heart attack patients and aligns with AstraZeneca’s standing commitment to healthcare providers and their patients across the spectrum of cardiovascular disease. We’re proud to support the American Heart Association and Duke University’s initiative because of its’ potential to positively impact outcomes in patients who experience a heart attack every year.”

The project will collaboratively be led by faculty at the Duke University School of Medicine and School of Nursing, with research operation direction from national-level systems experts at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, and staff from the American Heart Association. Duke pioneered an early response system in North Carolina, and helped collaborate with the American Heart Association on the STEMI ACCELLEATOR initiative that has provided a model for the current project.

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans.  The grant funding will enable us to build a seamless passage of care from the initial event through follow up care for the patient and families affected by heart attacks.  This work will broadly benefit patient outcomes and improve the healthcare emergency response for all cardiovascular emergencies in the communities chosen for intervention,” said Mayme Lou Roettig, RN, MSN, the director of Systems and Implementation Education from Duke Clinical Research Institute, Duke University.