Cleveland Clinic and Akron Children’s Hospital have entered an affiliation agreement to align their pediatric and adult congenital heart surgery programs and their adult congenital cardiology services.
The cardiovascular surgeons, adult congenital cardiologists and leadership teams from both hospital systems say the collaboration will best serve the families of the region and beyond by strengthening research and quality initiatives, improving operational efficiencies, and enhancing opportunities in the areas of medical education and physician recruitment.
Congenital heart disease, a type of defect in one or more structures of the heart or blood vessels, occurs in 8 to 10 out of every 1,000 births.
During 2014, Cleveland Clinic performed 160 surgical procedures to repair congenital heart defects in children and another 500 procedures in adult patients with congenital heart disease. During the same period, Akron Children’s performed 150 cardiac surgical procedures on children. The combined case volume performed within the collaborative positions it as one of the larger programs in the Midwest.
The collaborative team from Akron Children’s and Cleveland Clinic is now working toward the standardization of care that will lead to the eventual submission of a single outcomes data set to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS).
To this end, the surgeons and other members of the surgical team have been meeting regularly to discuss similarities and differences in their policies, practices and procedures. Cleveland Clinic and Akron Children’s surgeons have been granted privileges and have performed surgical cases at each other’s hospitals.
The surgeons are Drs. Philip Smith, Michael Spector and Peter Kouretas, of Akron Children’s, and Drs. Gosta Pettersson and Robert Stewart, of Cleveland Clinic.
Dr. Kouretas joined Akron Children Feb. 23 after serving as chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital since 2010.
“Our meetings have been very collegial. You can write about collaboration in a contract but it takes on real meaning in the day-to-day work you do in the care of patients,” said Dr. Smith, clinical director of the Heart Center at Akron Children’s. “We enjoy discussing challenging cases and having an expanded ‘brain trust’ to share ideas and best practices.”
The affiliation allows patients and parents to choose the location of their surgery and this will likely be based on their relationship with their cardiologist, which can last years if not decades, beyond their surgery. In a few instances, the type of surgery may dictate the location of the surgery. Joint “on call” schedules and staffing models are being developed.
“The combining of the Akron Children’s program and Cleveland Clinic program, together with the hiring of new chiefs of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery and Cardiology offers great opportunity in synergy and better care of children in northeast Ohio,” said Dr. Lars Svensson, chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute.
Another key feature of the affiliation is bringing together the two adult congenital cardiology programs.
With advances in fetal imaging and surgical interventions at birth and in early childhood that did not exist before the 1960s, more and more children born with congenital heart defects are not only surviving but thriving into adulthood. As a result, the demand for cardiologists and surgeons who specialize in adult congenital heart care has been steadily growing.
The Adult Congenital Heart Association estimates that more than 1 million American adults have congenital heart disease and that number is increasing by 5 percent each year.