Suggested Reading: When It Comes to Heart Attack, Speed Heals

In the 10-year period between 2003 and 2013, the U.S. death rate from coronary heart disease fell about 38%. In a long, anecdote-filled story that was part of its series on heart disease, the New York Times detailed how the decline reflects not only that we’re giving up cigarettes and controlling our cholesterol and blood pressure better, but that emergency departments are treating heart attack patients significantly faster.

“With no new medical discoveries, no new technologies, no payment incentives – and little public notice,” according to The Times, “hospitals in recent years have slashed the time it takes to clear a blockage in a patient’s arteries and get blood flowing again to the heart.”

A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery prevents blood from reaching heart muscle. The longer a heart goes without sufficient blood flow, the greater the damage. So, the best outcome after a heart attack, like a stroke, follows fast treatment. Not that long ago, it commonly took hospitals more than two hours to get blood flowing to a patient’s heart. Now, the story explained, “nearly all hospitals treat at least half their patients in 61 minutes or less, according to the most recent data from the American College of Cardiology.”

That such a significant improvement has been notched in such a short time, The Times reported, is the result of a detailed analysis of treatment delays and a campaign by the college (a professional society for specialists in heart disease) and the American Heart Association.

And unlike a lot of medical benefits that are realized only by people wealthy enough to pay for them, or lucky enough to live near elite medical centers, the good heart news also is happening to people treated at local hospitals in financially struggling regions.

MedPageToday.com lauded The Times’ series on heart disease, but made an important observation about the value of quick medical response and the best outcomes: “A short treatment time in the hospital won’t mean much if the patient waits several hours before calling 911 or showing up at the door. ”

Read here how medicine figured out how to fix what ailed heart attack care, and several of the stories about patients who benefited from it.

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