A cardiac catheterization can be a stressful experience for patients. To start with, the patient is likely worried about the ailment with his heart, and then he is wheeled into a procedure room that often has a cold, sterile feel, and at times during the catheterization, the staff may need to turn him onto an uncomfortable position to give the cardiologist a better view.
In an effort to improve the patient experience, Ascension St. Vincent's has expanded and upgraded the catheterization labs at St. Vincent's downtown and St. Vincent's East with a number of improvements that include lighting, sound and equipment.
"The environment is much more relaxing to work in and it seems to help put the patient at ease. After years of doing cath procedures, I'd have to say this is the best lab I have ever seen," David E. Cox, MD of Cardiology Specialists of Birmingham said. "The lighting system is incredible. You can even adjust the colors of soft lighting to give you the best view and the most calming feeling. To patients, it probably looks more like a spa than a lab, so that helps to improve the mood and lessen the tension."
The lighting, with colors patients can choose from, will sync with music and visuals during procedures. "The sound system is wonderful," Cox said. "We've always tried to use music to ease the stress for patients and to create a better working environment, but we often had to settle for whatever we could find on the radio. With this sound system, we can give patients just about any type of music they want. Working in the new labs seems to brighten staff morale, too.
"And I'm impressed with the cutting-edge tech that makes our work easier. The monitors are larger than life, and the clarity and resolution are excellent. This really helps when you're working with vessels that are about the size of spaghetti, especially in branching areas that can be more difficult."
As part of the upgrade, they installed the new Philips Azurion with FlexArm in both the St. Vincent's Downtown and East labs, making the two hospitals the first in Alabama to feature this advanced imaging technology. The FlexArm moves on eight different axes, all controlled with its single Axsys controller, resulting in a 270‑degree range of movement which significantly reduces the need to reposition the patient. A study at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute found clinicians using the system were able to reduce table repositioning by 30 percent.
"The new Flex C Arm is great for both the cath team and the patient," Cox said. "The footprint gives us much more flexibility in positioning the patient for the best view. It's also more comfortable for patients, since they don't have to stay in a difficult position for an extended period.
"This new technology also allows us to get good results using the smallest dose of radiation possible. This is better for the patient, and much better for the cath lab team, since we do a lot of procedures and less cumulative exposure is important in keeping everyone healthy."
The labs are set up to automatically save digital imaging and data from all procedures. "When I see patients who had a previous cath, I always want to compare the images. Text reports are good, but nothing gives you a clearer view of how the patient's condition is changing than pictures," Cox said.
Cox also has praise for the construction, design and equipment teams that managed to build the expansions during the pandemic. "I remember just as the virus was hitting, seeing workers clearing the space to make room for construction," he said. "I don't know how they did it, but somehow they managed to build the labs and bring everything together in spite of the challenges. It has made a big difference to patients, cardiologists and the staff."
The new cath labs are equipped for a range of interventional cardiovascular procedures, from diagnostic to dealing with blockages and implanting stents to restore blood flow.
"In addition to vessels supplying the heart, we also do interventional procedures in peripheral areas including the head, arms, abdomen and mostly the pelvis and legs," Cox said. "These procedures can save lives, limbs and relieve a lot of pain. It's wonderful to have such a great environment where we can do the work."