Medical Innovation Can Help First Responders Save Lives

IN THIS ISSUE, we feature our Annual Healthcare CEO Roundtable, which focuses on advances in medical technology, next-generation research and development of biotech and pharmaceuticals, and life-saving innova­tions at hospitals and medical centers.

Patient care and new “miracle” drugs are giving so many people second chances after diagnoses that used to be considered a death sen­tence—instead people we know are surviving, thriving and living to see the birth of grandchildren.

Innovative New Jersey companies, well-trained doctors and top-rated hos­pitals are a source of pride for the Garden State.

Medical innovation is also saving lives at the first responder level, well before a patient gets to a doctor or a hospital. For example, a new study shows that “a change in the type of breathing tube paramedics use to resuscitate patients with sudden cardiac arrest can signifi­cantly improve the odds of survival and save thousands of lives.”

Sudden cardiac arrest caused by a heart attack—according to the American Heart Association—usually occurs when the heart suddenly or unexpectedly stops beating, cutting off blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. The vast majority of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur at home, and only about 10 percent of people survive. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 90 percent of Americans who experience sudden cardiac arrest die before, or soon after, reaching a hospital.

“During resuscitation, opening the airway and having proper access to it is a key factor for the survival of someone who goes into cardiac arrest outside of a hospital,” explains George Sopko, M.D., M.P.H., program director in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Division of Cardiovascular Sciences and coauthor of the study. “But one of the burning questions in prehospital emer­gency care has been, ‘Which is the best airway device?’”

This study—funded by the NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute—is the largest of its kind to test oxygen delivery methods used by firefighters, emergency medical service (EMS) providers and paramedics. It is the first to show that a particular airway intervention can positively affect patient survival rates. The findings were pub­lished online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“This study demonstrated that just by managing the airway well in the early stage of resuscitation, we could save more than 10,000 lives every year,” says Dr. Sopko.

According to the NIH, EMS providers treat the majority of the 400,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests each year. For more than three decades, their standard-of-care technique for resuscitation has been endotracheal intubation—the inser­tion of a plastic tube into the trachea to maintain an open airway. They use this technique in hopes that mirroring the care given by in-hospital physicians will produce better patient outcomes.

“While identical to techniques used by doctors in the hospital, intubation in these severe and stressful prehospital settings is very difficult and fraught with errors,” says Henry E. Wang, M.D., professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Emergency Medicine at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Wang was the study’s lead author.

Today, however, the NIH says new devices such as laryngeal tubes, offer simpler alternatives to opening and accessing an airway. These tubes are easier to use, and the trial showed that cardiac arrest patients treated with this alternative had a higher survival rate.

In recognition of the wide array of contributors to medical innovation, we expanded this year’s Healthcare CEO Roundtable—which used to be only for hospital CEOs—to include biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical insurance company CEOs. This accurately reflects the healthcare supply chain, which benefits from new ideas from the moment of a 911 call to robot­ic surgery to long-term, life-saving medi­cines and treatments.

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