Patients can no longer receive heart surgery at Georgetown University Hospital.

MedStar Health closed GU Hospital’s Cardiac Surgery Program of in May, consolidating the program with Washington Hospital Center, which MedStar also owns.

MedStar cites an increase in technology and a decrease in demand for heart surgery as reasons for the unit’s closure.

“It was a corporate MedStar decision to consolidate the resources at Washington Hospital Center,” Cynthia M. Tracy, .D., interim chief in the division of cardiology, said.

MedStar owns Georgetown University Hospital and Washington Hospital Center along with other hospitals in the Washington, D.C. area and Baltimore.

“Fortunately, Georgetown is part of a multi-hospital system, MedStar Health, allowing us the flexibility to respond quickly to changes in the marketplace,” Georgetown University Hospital President M. Joy Drass said in a press release. “Our cardiac patients will continue to receive outstanding, quality treatment at Washington Hospital Center.”

According to Tracy, there was some dissatisfaction among the surgeons of the former Cardiac Surgery Program.

“We would have preferred [the consolidation] not to happen, but we have to recognize the realities of what medical care is like and accept changes that are not within our control,” she said. “There was some dissatisfaction because it is not how we have envisioned doing things, but we have to move forward and try to figure out how to make things work optimally here given the system we have at hand.”

Tracy said that without surgical back up for these situations, patients might choose other hospitals, but the press release stated that the consolidation had no effect on either the inpatient volume or the operational cases at GU Hospital.

“[Patients] may need to be taken to a center where they can have coronary interventions and cardiac surgery,” she said. “If we need coronary intervention in such a patient, then we’ll have to transport them. We have the full support of a transport team and equipment to transport the patient safely,” Tracy said.

Karen Alcorn, vice president for public affairs and marketing at the hospital, said the hospital has a working protocol in place for patients in need of surgery, which can be transported by ground or helicopter to the Washington Hospital Center.

The unit’s closure also raises questions about how medical students will be taught cardiac surgery once the program is consolidated.

Tracy said the students will rotate through Fairfax Hospital, the Washington Veterans Medical Center and the Washington Hospital Center to observe pre-surgery and post-surgery treatments and surgical operations.

Last year Georgetown University Hospital surgeons performed 250 cardiac surgeries, compared to the 2,200 surgeries performed by the Washington Hospital Center, according to a hospital press release.

According to Tracy, the consolidation follows a national trend of fewer cardiac surgeries.

“Obviously if [other non-surgical methods] are effective or nearly as effective as surgery, it is desirable to achieve the same results with a less invasive approach. We’ll probably continue to see a further reduction in open-heart procedures in the future,” Tracy said.

Georgetown University Hospital will instead perform non-surgical treatments that have a small risk of requiring an emergency surgical intervention.

According to Tracy, the risk involved with these treatments is lower, because unlike angioplasty and stenting, these treatments do not place wires directly down the coronary artery.

Tracy said no governing body in cardiology, including the American College of Cardiology, has any standard of having surgical back up during these treatments, such as diagnostic catheterization.

Tracy said the resources of the Cardiac Surgery Program will be directed to improve programs like the transplant and the Cardiovascular Kidney Institute. Additional resources will be moved to neuroscience, gastroenterology and cancer programs, adult and pediatric liver transplant and orthopedics.

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