E V O LV I N G T E C H N I Q U E S I N T H O R AC I C AO R T I C D I S E A S E
Establishing an Acute
Aortic Treatment Center
Rapid patient transportation, diagnosis, and introduction of therapy by a dedicated multi-
disciplinary team can reduce the significant mortality of acute aortic syndromes.
BY ALAN B. LUMSDEN, MD, DEBRA J. CRAWFORD, RN; ERIC K. PEDEN, MD; BRYAN T. CROFT, MBA;
MICHAEL J. REARDON, MD; JEFF E. KALINA, MD; FAISAL N. MASUD, MD;
AND KRISTOFER M. CHARLTON-OUW, MD
here is increasing recognition of the need for acute episode. This is particularly the case with one of
expeditious care in a variety of life-threatening the most common aortic emergencies—Stanford type
illnesses. Whereas rapidly getting a patient to A (DeBakey I and II) aortic dissection. With this diagno-
an emergency room has long been associated sis, the mortality rate increases at a rate of 1% per hour.
with management of the critically ill trauma patient In fact, type A dissection is more fatal than acute
(“scoop and run,” “the golden hour”), there has been myocardial infarction if not treated emergently.
less emphasis on moving patients rapidly through the We have established a new type of critical care center
hospital after they arrive on site. It is the combination at the Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas: the acute
of increasingly efficient transportation to the hospital aortic treatment center (AATC). The focus of this cen-
coupled with rapid diagnosis and emergent introduc- ter is rapid transportation, diagnosis, and introduction
tion of therapy that is currently being widely embraced. of therapy for patients with acute aortic syndromes.
Door-to-balloon times are now broadly documented, The center will also focus on patient and physician edu-
reported, and recognized as a quality marker for man- cation regarding acute aortic syndromes. This educa-
agement of acute myocardial infarction. Likewise, early tion process is imperative for rapid delivery of patients
treatment of stroke has resulted in development of to the center.
stroke centers where stroke recognition and early inter- The keys to successful treatment of acute aortic dis-
vention are hallmarks of excellence. In our institution, ease, therefore, include early diagnosis, rapid institution
acute stroke therapy and speed of recanalization for of medical therapy, endovascular or surgical interven-
acute myocardial infarction have broken down adminis- tion, high-quality cardiovascular anesthesia, selective
trative, processing, and physician barriers so that we customized cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU)
can focus on reducing morbidity by streamlining trans- care, and outcomes tracking.
portation, diagnosis, and initiation of appropriate ther-
apy. It is against this backdrop that we believe it is time- W H Y S H O U L D A H O S P I TA L D E V E LO P
ly to focus these resources on rapid treatment of A N A ATC ?
patients with acute aortic syndromes. The concept of an AATC is relatively new, focusing on
acute aortic emergencies and creating a differentiated
R AT I O N A L E market strategy. A successful AATC will position the
Acute aortic syndromes consist of aortic dissection, institution for upcoming acute aortic clinical trials.
aortic rupture, intramural hematoma, penetrating There is then the potential to generate interesting out-
ulcers, and acute aortic occlusion, all of which can be comes and human-interest stories for public relations
immediately life-threatening and mandate a highly and state-of-the-art research opportunities, as well as
skilled, multidisciplinary team of physicians and the potential to differentiate from other competing
resources for optimal outcomes. hospitals with a strong market position in thoracic aor-
These emergencies are immediately life threatening, tic disease.
with mortality rising with increasing time after the AATC development is primarily an organizational
28 I SUPPLEMENT TO ENDOVASCULAR TODAY I NOVEMBER 2007
issue, with minimal capital outlay FIGURE 1. FROM DIAGNOSIS OF ACUTE AORTIC SYNDROME TO
required. Most tertiary hospitals MEDICAL OR SURGICAL TREATMENT IN ≤60 MINUTES
already have the necessary com-
ponents (Table 1), such as state-
of-the-art imaging suites in an Time of arrival in ER ___________
operating room environment
where both open- and catheter-
based therapy can be performed ER physician examines patient
in the presence of a cardiovascu-
lar anesthesiologist, which is the
ideal scenario for acute aortic
care. An AATC leverages the hos- Labs: BUN, creatinine with i-Stat
pital’s existing rapid-response
services infrastructure, creating
shorter door-to-balloon times for
acute myocardial infarction and Creatine >1.6
Yes or iodine allergy No
rapid intervention at the stroke
CT of chest CT of chest
KEY PHYSICIAN without contrast with contrast
There are five essential physi-
cian positions that must be in In-house radiologist contacts
place to effectively operate an ER physician with CT findings
AATC: (1) an emergency room
physician to function as a point
person in the emergency room
Acute Aorta? ER protocol
and act as an interface with EMT Yes No
Time ___ for patient
services; (2) the Medical Director evaluation
of the CVICU, who would coordi-
nate care for emergent stabiliza-
tion; (3) a CT radiologist to pro- Activate group
vide emergent interpretation of page
CT imaging; (4) an on-call sur-
geon, servicing the AACT, who
will triage based on CT images; ED physician calls CV surgeon and
and (5) cardiac and vascular sur- CVICU intensivist
geons who work in close collabo-
ration and are part of the same
department of cardiovascular CV surgeon on reviews CT and
surgery. This group comprises the decides patient disposition
primary reviewing and triaging
IMPLEMENTING If OR, open or 2nd tier
CVICU or OR? group
C L I N I C A L PAT H WAY S endovascular? page
AND PROTO CO L S
In addition to the dedicated
AATC physician team, several
other elements must be put in CV surgeon calls CVICU Arrival of patient to OR
place. A clinical pathway from intensivist with plan or CVICU Time_____
diagnosis through emergent
NOVEMBER 2007 I SUPPLEMENT TO ENDOVASCULAR TODAY I 29
E V O LV I N G T E C H N I Q U E S I N T H O R AC I C AO R T I C D I S E A S E
transportation to the AATC, including resuscitation 4. If the patient’s creatinine is >1.6 or he has an iodine
protocols for EMTs, must be designed and implement- or contrast allergy, a CT of the chest without con-
ed. There must also be a defined clinical pathway from trast is obtained. This scan is reviewed and dis-
the emergency room through the scanner to the ICU or cussed, and the decision is made whether to repeat
operating room. The abbreviated patient flow sheet and scan with contrast.
clinical pathways are included in Figure 1 and later in 5. The in-house radiologist on call reads the CT and
this article. Specific protocols should be in place for the immediately contacts the responsible emergency
management of each of the following clinical presenta- room physician with findings.
tions: 6. If acute aortic syndrome is suspected or confirmed,
• Type A dissection (eg, immediate operating room a group page will be sent to the following personnel:
intervention) -CV surgeon on call
• Type B dissection (eg, medical management) -CVICU
• Malperfusion syndromes -Operating room supervisor
• Intramural hematoma -Nursing supervisor
• Ruptured thoracic aorta -Security
• Ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms; for this disease 7. The emergency room physician calls the CV surgeon
state, the only advancement to reduce mortality rates directly.
is endovascular repair, in which the AATC have signifi- 8. The CV surgeon reviews CT scans on site or via
cant experience Web-based viewing.
• Symptomatic thoracic aneurysms 9. The CV surgeon determines patient disposition: If
• Symptomatic abdominal aneurysms the patient had noncontrast CT, the surgeon will
• Penetrating ulcers make a decision about risk/benefit ratio of proceed-
• Thoracic aortic injury ing with contrast because it may be necessary for
• Shaggy aortic syndrome diagnosis/decision making.
10. The CV surgeon decides if open surgical interven-
A PACS or home-based electronic access system tion (such as for type A dissection), endovascular
should also be available for the triaging surgeon. repair (which is appropriate ruptures of thoracic
and abdominal aneurysms and dissection with
ACUTE AORTIC TREATMENT: CLINICAL PATHWAYS malperfusion syndromes), hybrid procedures, or
An AATC should establish two pathways for patient medical management (such as for type B dissec-
throughput. On Pathway A, patients will be transported tion) will be needed.
to an emergency room with established diagnosis of -Cardiac anesthesiologist is paged.
acute aortic syndrome. Pathway B includes patients in -If an endovascular route is taken, the radiology
the emergency room who are suspected of having an tech is paged.
acute aortic syndrome. 11. The CV surgeon calls CVICU intensivist with treat-
Pathway A 12. The emergency room physician calls CVICU inten-
The patient is transported to the AATC, and CT imag- sivist.
ing from an outside institution is immediately uploaded 13. The patient is transported expeditiously to the
to PACS, if available. There is an in-house radiologist on appropriate destination, and treatment is initiated.
call who reads the CT and immediately contacts respon-
sible emergency room physician with the findings. The CHALLENGE S
treatment continues according to Pathway B, line 6. One of the most significant obstacles to establishing a
successful AATC is to increase awareness of its existence
Pathway B in outlying emergency rooms. However, these referral
1. The emergency room physician examines patient. centers, as well as local EMTs and the community as a
2. If acute aortic syndrome is suspected, labs will be whole, must also be educated on how to identify the
collected and analyzed with i-Stat (turnaround symptoms and risk factors of acute aortic syndromes.
time, 10 minutes). These include patients with known untreated aortic
3. If the patient’s creatinine is ≤1.6, a CT of the chest, aneurysms; history of treated aortic aneurysms; severe
abdomen, and pelvis with contrast is promptly chest, abdominal, or back pain; “tearing”-type chest pain;
obtained. or a pulsatile abdominal mass.
30 I SUPPLEMENT TO ENDOVASCULAR TODAY I NOVEMBER 2007
TABLE 1. COMPONENTS OF A SUCCESSFUL AATC AND PROGRAM
• Rapid identification and transport system
• Education of emergency medical technicians and local area emergency rooms on recognition of acute aortic syndromes
• Emergency room group with extensive experience in diagnosis and resuscitation of patients with acute aortic emergencies
• On-site 64-slice CT scanner in emergency room for immediate, fast imaging to permit emergent case triage
• Dedicated cardiovascular operating rooms and hybrid suites
• Goal of emergency room to treatment initiation time of <1 hour
• Highly experienced cardiovascular surgeons
• Highly experienced endovascular surgeons
• Surgeons working in close collaboration as a team of physicians for triaging cases and in surgical procedures
• History of integrating endovascular and open approaches
• Highly experienced, board-certified cardiovascular anesthesiologists
• Comprehensive operating room to CVICU care, with 24-hour in-house intensivist care
• Availability of new technologies for endovascular therapy of acute aortic syndromes
• Outcomes database
The AATC will likely also have to establish and coordi- Cardiovascular Surgery, The Methodist DeBakey Heart Center,
nate the rapid transport mechanisms with appropriate Houston, Texas. She may be reached at (713) 441-6556;
reimbursement, and then, as previously indicated, educate email@example.com.
the ambulance service staff regarding identification of acute Eric K. Peden, MD, is Associate Professor, Acting Chief of
aortic syndromes. A key element of the education for Vascular Surgery, Department of Cardiovascular Surgery, The
transport services regards the concept of permissive Methodist DeBakey Heart Center, Houston, Texas. He may be
hypotension for ruptured aneurysms. reached at (713) 441-5200; firstname.lastname@example.org.
A public awareness campaign should be designed with Bryan T. Croft, MBA, is Vice President of Operations, The
the goal of driving patient requests for transportation to Methodist DeBakey Heart Center in Houston, Texas. He may
the AATC should they feel symptoms. A dedicated, AATC- be reached at (713) 441-1183; email@example.com.
specific Web site helps to build community awareness of Michael J. Reardon, MD, is Professor of Cardiothoracic
the facility’s program. Patient-oriented information about Surgery, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, Chief of
aortic disease and treatment options should be displayed Cardiac Surgery, Department of Cardiovascular Surgery, The
prominently. Methodist DeBakey Heart Center, Houston, Texas. He may be
Drs. Michael E. DeBakey, Stanley Crawford, and Denton reached at (713) 441-5200; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cooley first tackled what was formerly a prohibitive surgi- Jeff E. Kalina, MD, is Associate Medical Director of
cal disease and developed contemporary surgical tech- Emergency Medicine, Chairman of Disaster Response, Weill
niques to treat the thoracic and abdominal aorta. Dr. Medical College of Cornell University. He may be reached at
DeBakey was the first to classify aortic dissection, a classifi- (713) 441-4467; email@example.com.
cation that bears his name to this day. Due to the legacy of Faisal N. Masud, MD, is Associate Professor of Clinical
these physicians and a long history of innovation in treating Anesthesiology, Weill College of Cornell University, Medical
aortic disease, The Methodist Hospital in Houston is partic- Director, Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, The Methodist
ularly well suited for development of this new concept. ■ DeBakey Heart Center, Houston, Texas. He may be reached at
(713) 441-3620; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alan B. Lumsden, MD, is Professor of Surgery, The Kristofer M. Charlton-Ouw, MD, is a Research Fellow,
Methodist DeBakey Heart Center, Houston, Texas. He may be Department of Cardiovascular Surgery, The Methodist
reached at (713) 441-6201; email@example.com. DeBakey Heart Center, Houston, Texas. He may be reached at
Debra J. Crawford, RN, is Clinical Manager, Department of (713) 441-6572; firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOVEMBER 2007 I SUPPLEMENT TO ENDOVASCULAR TODAY I 31