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Hospitals in state report fewer heart-surgery deaths

| Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, 1:41 a.m.

SCRANTON — Patients undergoing heart surgery are faring better at Pennsylvania hospitals than they did seven years ago, according to a new report.

Mortality rates for patients who had bypass surgery have fallen by more than 20 percent over that time, while mortality rates for those undergoing heart valve surgery went down by more than a third, according to the report from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.

“Even though the risk profile of the patients we are asked to treat has gotten worse — you know, older, sicker patients — our techniques have gotten better,” said Dr. Russell Stahl, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton.

The report looked at outcomes for 20,164 patients who underwent coronary artery bypass graft and/or heart valve surgery between July 1, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2012, at the 59 Pennsylvania hospitals doing those procedures.

In bypass surgery, a surgeon creates an alternate path for blood to reach the heart because a section of the artery is blocked. In valve surgery, one or more of the heart's valves are repaired or replaced with an artificial one or one harvested from animal or human tissue.

The percentage of bypass-surgery patients who died in hospitals declined from 1.9 percent in 2005 to 1.5 percent in 2012, according to the cost containment council. In-hospital mortality rates for valve-surgery patients fell by as much as 38 percent over the same period, while a lower percentage of patients needed to be readmitted within 30 days for a heart-related infection or complication, the report said.

Even as the mortality rate is going down, surgeons are doing fewer bypasses. From 2005 to 2012, the number of bypass surgeries without valve procedures decreased by more than a third to 8,280. Experts say new techniques and surgeries give health care providers more ways to treat heart conditions.

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