Allegheny General Hospital’s Pulmonary Hypertension Program Earns National Recognition

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Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), part of the Allegheny Health Network, has earned an accreditation that places it in exclusive company as one of just 29 healthcare facilities in the U.S. – and the only one in western Pennsylvania – to be recognized for the quality of its pulmonary hypertension (PH) program. AGH joins the University of Pennsylvania as the only medical centers in the state to receive Pulmonary Hypertension Care Center (PHCC) accreditation by the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA).

Dr. Raymond Benza

Without treatment, the average survival for those with PH is less than three years. That’s why it is so crucial that we are able to properly diagnose PH and begin to treat it.

Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), part of the Allegheny Health Network, has earned an accreditation that places it in exclusive company as one of just 29 healthcare facilities in the U.S. – and the only one in western Pennsylvania – to be recognized for the quality of its pulmonary hypertension (PH) program. AGH joins the University of Pennsylvania as the only medical centers in the state to receive Pulmonary Hypertension Care Center (PHCC) accreditation by the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA).

This accreditation means a healthcare facility’s PH program excels in its diagnostic capabilities and has the capacity to appropriately and comprehensively manage PH patients through a set of criteria established by the PHA. As part of the PHCC accreditation process, the PHA is developing a registry of patients with pulmonary hypertension. This will allow researchers to track diagnostic and treatment patterns at the national level, ultimately demonstrating improvements in quality of care and life for PH patients.

Pulmonary hypertension is a debilitating disease of the lungs that affects the functioning of the heart and can lead to heart failure. It occurs when the pressure in the blood vessels leading from the heart to the lungs is too high. The heart pumps blood from the right ventricle to the lungs to get oxygen. Because the blood does not have to travel very far, the pressure in this side of the heart and in the artery taking blood from the right ventricle to the lungs is normally low. But when the pressure in this artery gets too high, the arteries in the lungs can narrow and then the blood does not flow as well as it should. This results in less oxygen in the blood.

“What makes PH difficult to diagnose is that symptoms like shortness of breath or chest pains are often misdiagnosed,” said Raymond Benza, MD, Director of the Heart Failure, Transplantation, Mechanical Circulatory Support and Pulmonary Hypertension programs at AGH. “Patients may go months thinking they have asthma or another less-threatening disease. Without treatment, the average survival for those with PH is less than three years. That’s why it is so crucial that we are able to properly diagnose PH and begin to treat it.”

AGH’s cardiovascular specialists use a careful evaluation process to determine the cause, severity and prognosis of each patient’s PH as there are various types of the disease that require different treatments. This includes a rare form known as chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH) in which blood clots become stuck to the lung’s blood vessel wall and block blood flow. AGH is one of about 10 medical centers in the country that performs a highly complex procedure called pulmonary thromboendarterectomy (PTE) for patients with CTEPH. In this delicate surgery, which can actually cure a CTEPH patient’s PH, doctors remove the clots from the pulmonary arteries to restore blood flow.

“Since we started performing this procedure in 2012, we have had very successful outcomes, with patients’ pulmonary artery pressures returning to normal levels and patients seeing dramatic improvements in their quality of life,” said Robert J. Moraca, MD, Surgical Director of the Pulmonary Thromboendarterectomy Program for AHN’s Cardiovascular Institute at AGH. “In fact, because of these positive outcomes, we have become a regional referral center, with about 25 percent of our patients coming from outside of Pennsylvania, including patients from Virginia and Indiana.”

For CTEPH patients who are not candidates for PTE, Allegheny General doctors are able to perform a non-surgical procedure called balloon pulmonary angioplasty (BPA) that is offered at only a handful of medical centers around the world.

“Treating patients with pulmonary hypertension requires multidisciplinary care – it’s a collaborative, team approach to identify the best treatment for the patient,” explained Manreet Kanwar, MD, Associate Medical Director of the Pulmonary Thromboendarterectomy Program for AHN’s Cardiovascular Institute at AGH. “The decision of what is best for each patient is not made in isolation. And we are continuously researching additional therapies and devices that will provide our patients the best possible outcomes and quality of life.”

AHN’s cardiovascular disease program at Allegheny General Hospital is recognized by CareChex®, a division of leading healthcare industry analyst Comparion Medical Analytics, as the best in western Pennsylvania in 2015 for medical excellence, patient safety and patient satisfaction. The Network’s heart transplant program is ranked in the nation’s top 10 programs by Comparion based on the same measures.

“The accreditation by the Pulmonary Hypertension Association is yet another recognition by an independent, third-party organization of the excellent quality of cardiovascular care we are able to provide,” said Srinivas Murali, MD, Director of AHN’s Cardiovascular Institute. “Many of the other healthcare facilities to earn PHCC accreditation are among the best-known names in medicine. It is a tremendous honor for our Pulmonary Hypertension Program to be included in this group.”
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About Allegheny Health Network
Allegheny Health Network, part of Highmark Health, is an integrated healthcare delivery system serving the Western Pennsylvania region. The Network composes eight hospitals, including its flagship academic medical center Allegheny General Hospital, Allegheny Valley Hospital, Canonsburg Hospital, Forbes Hospital, Jefferson Hospital, Saint Vincent Hospital, Westfield Memorial Hospital and West Penn Hospital; a research institute; Health + Wellness Pavilions; an employed physician organization, home and community based health services and a group purchasing organization. The Network employs approximately 17,500 people and has more than 2,100 physicians on its medical staff. The Network also serves as a clinical campus for Temple University School of Medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine and the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.

About the AGH Cardiovascular Institute
Allegheny General Hospital, the quaternary flagship of Allegheny Health Network’s Cardiovascular Institute, offers comprehensive, state-of-the-art care for the complete spectrum of cardiovascular disease. The hospital’s nationally recognized medical staff includes specialists in general and interventional cardiology, electrophysiology, leading-edge diagnostic cardiology – including cardiovascular MRI, CT and 3-D echocardiography – women’s heart care, heart failure and pulmonary hypertension, heart transplantation and mechanical circulatory support, vascular surgery and wound care, thoracic surgery, heart valve disease and coronary artery bypass surgery. AGH is recognized by leading healthcare industry analyst Comparion as western Pennsylvania’s top hospital in quality and safety for overall cardiovascular care and complex heart surgery.

AGH’s broad scope of advanced capabilities in the treatment of heart failure offers patients access to cutting-edge investigational therapies being explored in clinical trials, such as new medicines and implantable devices designed to more effectively monitor disease progression and treat conditions before they require hospitalization. The hospital was recently the first in western Pennsylvania to use the latest-generation total artificial heart to provide a bridge to transplantation for patients with end-stage heart failure. It also has become one of just a few national referral centers for advanced treatment of pulmonary hypertension. AGH’s heart transplant program is lauded by both Comparion and the National Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients as having the best patient outcomes of any program in the region.

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Doug Braunsdorf
Allegheny Health Network
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