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A Strong Pulse - The Primary Children's Heart Center Ranks 8th Nationally

May 06, 2013

Author: Peta Owens-Liston

Collaboration between faculty from the pediatric division of the University of Utah School of Medicine and Primary Children’s Hospital has earned them recognition from Parent magazine as the 8th ranked heart center in the nation (“10 Best Children’s Hospitals for Heart Care”). It noted the significant child-health research in the works, including more than 1,200 studies.

The rankings are based on several categories including treatment-success rates, safeguards to prevent medical errors, research studies, doctor’s experience, community outreach, and support services that address the emotional needs of families.

The ranking did not come as a surprise to Peter Gruber MD, PhD, chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at Primary Children’s Hospital and associate professor of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at University of Utah’s School of Medicine. He notes the intensified focus in the past four years on collaboration among specialties resulting in an increase in heart-care effectiveness and the overall experience for patients and their families.

In the Q & A below, Gruber shares insights into why the U’s staff at Primary Children’s Hospital Heart Center ranks so high and will continue on this path.

What does this ranking mean for Utahns?

It is a confirmation of the historically great treatment that has happened in Utah in this area but has been under publicized. People here in Utah have always known about it but now news is getting out there to the rest of the nation. Though, we are already known as the go-to children’s hospital in the Mountain West. The ranking is also a well-deserved recognition for all the hard work that the heart center staff has put into our new program.

What do you think gave the Primary Children’s Hospital Heart Center an edge over the competition?

We’ve put forth some new initiatives in the last two years that are producing really positive results. In the past, we worked more along department borders in cardiology. We’ve shifted to focus more acutely on a collaborative approach involving the five pillars of the heart center: anesthesia, cardiology, critical care, nursing, and surgery.

We’ve really worked hard to create a more collaborative, center-type environment rather than an isolated or silo-type environment. This improves care, reduces redundancy thus increasing efficiency, and strengthens communication.

Instead of a handful of different practitioners offering different services, a single, collaborative team of multiple specialties works with each family. These teams meet every morning to go over each patient and come up with a single collaborative plan, ultimately reducing the risk for errors and improving the quality of care.

How do you envision this approach working for Primary Children’s Hospital in the future?

I believe this approach will yield even more fruit in the future. This type of interaction promotes growth; this cross-fertilization of specialties ultimately will result in more innovative and effective care. Our surgical volume is increasing with the best outcomes ever reported for our center. We’re able to provide every necessary facility, service, and specialty in regards to the heart covering everything from medical, surgical, transplantation, and do it in a collaborative fashion. We’re seeing more and more adults with congenital heart disease, simply because children are now living longer.

Other rankings?

Last June, the U.S. News & World Report ranked our heart center 18th in the nation, up from a previous ranking of 31, and they’ll be taking another look at us this June. They noted that we had some of the best clinical outcomes from surgery and we scored particularly high in nursing.

The next step?

We are the closest pediatric heart center to many here in the west. The next closest are the centers in Seattle and Denver. We want to reach families who may not know this, who perhaps live in rural areas, and need heart care.

We’re fortunate because smaller centers don’t have the volume of cases to allow for the comprehensive level of care that we provide. And the very large centers are ships so big it is hard for them to move quickly or be nimble. We are in a sweet spot to continue to provide excellent care with the ability to provide innovative change and improvements.