State of the Heart: The East Carolina Heart Institute

This represents a significant change to the way medical students are taught. Traditionally, clinicians do not have access to medical students until the students enter their third year of medical school when they begin clinical rotations. Now through more longitudinal studies and integrated programs, clinicians at the East Carolina Heart Institute will work with medical students beginning in the first year. This will provide greater clinical correlation between coursework during the first two years of medical school, and the application of that knowledge to the treatment of patients.

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A healthy lifestyle is the first line of defense against cardiovascular disease. Part of the institute’s mission is to improve the health of North Carolinians by improving health-care delivery to patients, and by developing and promoting prevention and education programs that emphasize wellness and the healthy living.

Dr. Steven Powell, chief of vascular surgery at the Brody School of Medicine teaches a class of future surgeons.

But when cardiovascular care is required, the patients will be well-served by the new institute.

Eastern North Carolina has a particular need for specialized cardiac care. Cardiovascular disease disproportionately affects the 1.3 million people who live in the 29 counties of the region. The area has some of the highest instances of cardiovascular disease in the United States.

“There is a drastic need for addressing what is nearly an endemic state of cardiovascular disease in eastern North Carolina,” said T. Bruce Ferguson, MD, professor and chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences. “When the institute was becoming a reality, we began to think about how we could reorganize the care delivery process and what would be necessary for us to be able to do that.”

The resulting concept allows for the most efficient use of resources, and most importantly, provides patients with the latest, and most promising treatment options available. Patients have access to cardiologists, vascular surgeons, thoracic surgeons, diagnosticians, and rehabilitation specialists, all under one roof.

The alignment of the care processes at the heart institute is beneficial to both patients and health-care providers by streamlining care along the natural relationships between the care processes. No longer will they face the burden of seeing multiple physicians for a singular health problem.

And the institute’s integration of HealthSpan, University Health Systems’ electronic medical record system, allows for increased communication between the different care centers inside the institute.

“We are extraordinarily fortunate in our ability to be able to have a facility like this, to be able to have our patients participate and be cared for in a facility like this, and particularly one that is organized in the way that it is,” said Ferguson.

In a sense, the institute is the physical manifestation of a concept that is gaining acceptance in the medical community and from health-care administrators at the highest levels who realize that integrated patient care is the future of health care in the country.

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When the East Carolina Heart Institute’s creation was announced in 2004, ECU and PCMH promised “a new approach that will offer one center of excellence for innovations in cardiovascular disease research, treatment, prevention, and education.”

Nearly five years later, the building standing on ECU’s Health Sciences Campus and the soon-to-be completed hospital tower at Pitt County Memorial Hospital, are testaments to the sincerity of that promise and the determination and vision of the physicians and administrators who saw the need for an innovative new resource for providing life-saving cardiovascular care to the patients of eastern North Carolina.

By completely reinventing the manner with which cardiovascular disease is perceived and treated, the East Carolina Heart Institute has created a working model for what one day could become a nationwide shift in the way health care across all disease processes is delivered to those who need it most. And when it does, our well-kept secret is going to become a lot harder to keep.

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