Cardiac Alert Program - A First in San Diego County

Since November 2003, the Cardiac Alert Program at Palomar Health is doing what it is designed to do: saving lives by decreasing the time it takes for heart patients to receive life-saving treatment. Initiated as the first of its kind in San Diego County, the Cardiac Alert Program starts in the field with paramedics using a 12-lead EKG machine to track changes in heart rhythms and identify high-risk patients. Those patients are brought directly to Palomar Medical Center’s Emergency Department where the cardiac team examines the patient and quickly sends them to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab for treatment. Already the time it takes to begin treatment has been shortened from 130 minutes to 83 minutes.

Dennis Leahy, M.D., board-certified interventional cardiologist, and Robert Stein, M.D., a board-certified cardiologist, were instrumental in developing the program. Participating fire departments include Escondido, Ramona, Poway, Julian, San Marcos and Valley Center.

“The Cardiac Alert Program is proving effective by reducing complications and mortality by providing much quicker access to appropriate treatment. The next step is to create better awareness throughout Inland North County that it is essential to call 911 whenever you suspect a heart attack,” Dr. Leahy says. “Unfortunately, about half of all heart attack patients drive themselves or come by private car to the emergency department, which delays life-saving treatment.”

Dr. Leahy says one of the reasons the program has been so successful at such an early stage is because of the total team “buy in” of its purpose. “Everyone – from the emergency department physicians and staff to the paramedics in the field and from the cardiac cath lab staff to the cardiologists, laboratory and pharmacy personnel – understands that each heart attack is a true emergency that requires quick action to decrease the ‘door to balloon’ time.”


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