Mayo Clinic (Rochester, New York) reported the development of a new system to speed critical care to acute heart attack patients that dramatically reduces the time that elapses before patients undergo a life-saving procedure — by as much as 45 minutes in some cases.

Dubbed by Mayo as the FAST TRACK protocol, the initiative is intended to drive shorter “door-to-balloon” time to save both heart muscle and patient lives. Mayo researchers reported their results on at this year’s Scientific Session of the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans.

Mayo physicians in 2003, recognized the urgent need to expedite care for STEMI patients, said Henry Ting, MD, lead author and a Mayo cardiologist coordinating its quality improvement efforts. At that time, patients with STEMI arriving at Saint Marys Hospital on the Rochester Mayo Clinic campus had an average door-to-balloon time of 98 minutes. Even more concerning is the fact that STEMI patients who first reported to an outlying regional community hospital and then transferred to Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester had an average door-to-balloon time of 202 minutes.

The study shows that Mayo Clinic treated 597 consecutive patients from May 2004 to December 2006. Data were logged for two patient groups: those presenting to the hospital in Rochester and those who reported first to a regional hospital — sometimes as much as 150 miles away — and then transferred to Saint Marys Hospital. For patients nearest Saint Marys, the median door-to-balloon time was improved by almost 30 minutes, decreasing by 31%, from 98 to 69 minutes. For farther-out patients from one of the 28 regional community hospitals who required transfer to Saint Marys Hospital, the median first door-to-balloon time improved by almost 90 minutes — a 45% decrease, from 202 minutes to 116 minutes.

“We knew we could do better — and save more lives in the process. Ting said. “Mayo’s new FAST TRACK STEMI protocol dramatically reduced the time that elapsed from hospital arrival to balloon procedure — nearly halving the time in the case of transfer patients arriving from regional hospitals to Saint Marys Hospital.” Ting added: “time is heart muscle” and is why time “is the most important tangible measure of quality for caregivers to optimize in order to save more lives in patients presenting with STEMI.”