Guided by a clear vision of the type of high-quality, around-the-clock cardiology services its founders wanted to provide, The Heart Group of Syracuse is the only heart practice in the area with three strategic office locations across Central New York and physicians with privileges at all major Syracuse hospitals.
After practicing for several years with cardiology megagroups in Syracuse, Jamal J. Ahmed, MD, FACC, and Traian M. Anghel, MD, FACC, both cardiac electrophysiologists and cardiologists, established their own practice in 2011. Today, the Heart Group is the only cardiology practice in the area to offer comprehensive, personalized, continuous cardiac coverage, day in and day out, at Crouse Hospital, Upstate University Hospital, Oswego Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“We wanted to practice in an environment that enabled us to spend more time with patients and not be rushed, and we wanted our patient interactions to be direct, and not diluted by proxies,” Dr. Ahmed says. “It was also a top priority to provide consistent care for our patients, which was difficult to achieve while practicing at our former offices, where we were locked to only select hospitals in the area.”
The Heart Group of Syracuse (l-r), Jennifer Precourt, Lori Horning, Jamal J. Ahmed, MD, Trajan M. Anghel, MD, Courtney Unbehend, Carli Kilmer
Comprehensive Cardiology Care
Over the last six years, the services provided by The Heart Group have grown substantially. Once the practice was established, the group secured privileges at all major Syracuse hospitals.
“Having privileges at all area hospitals was a major priority of ours,” Dr. Anghel says. “We found that many times, our patients who got sick and required inpatient care would end up in hospitals where we didn’t previously have privileges. Because of this, continuity of care would suffer. Their care would start all over from scratch. They’d see a new physician at the hospital and start a new treatment. This disruption in care can have a devastating impact on cardiac patient outcomes.”
Jamal J. Ahmed, MD, and Traian M. Anghel, MD, confer on a patient’s medical history.
Creating their own practice from the ground up allows Drs. Anghel and Ahmed to fully manage patients with a variety of cardiovascular health concerns, including coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease, vascular disease, heart failure, heart attacks, sudden cardiac arrest, diseases of the heart muscle and the heart’s electrical system, arrhythmias, as well as difficult-to-treat hypertension and high cholesterol and their complications. Because cardiac conditions are often life-threatening disorders that can begin at any time and sometimes without warning, patients with these issues often require stringent monitoring and treatment. In light of new practice care guidelines established for cardiovascular health, such as those for arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation (Afib), heart failure and pacemaker and defibrillator care, the necessity of continuity of care, round-the-clock monitoring, and early detection and treatment, as well as specialty involvement, has become exceedingly paramount.
“Almost anywhere our patients may be admitted in the area, if the facility is so suited, we can treat them there and provide not only general cardiology services, but also specialty electrophysiology services and advanced coronary diagnostics— all of which are available round-the-clock,” Dr. Anghel says. “We are the only practice in this area that is able to provide this kind of coverage.”
“Most other cardiology practices do not have more than one electrophysiologist on staff, and even if they do, there is no guarantee of comprehensive, 24/7 coverage,” Dr. Ahmed adds. “The average city of this size has about 60 cardiologists practicing. However, only a handful specialize in and practice electrophysiology.”
Serving the Underserved
Building on the success of their practice and the community’s need for amplified access to specialty cardiac care, Drs. Anghel and Ahmed went on to expand The Heart Group from their initial office location in East Syracuse, opening additional practices in the region to reach patients in underserved areas of Central New York. Those efforts began in 2014 with an office in Fulton. In September 2016, the group established another location in Watertown. Yet another office will open its doors in early 2017, when The Heart Group anticipates the opening of its fourth office in Skaneateles.
Demand for electrophysiology, a subspecialty of cardiology that provides physicians with the necessary tools and techniques for identifying, treating and often curing heart arrhythmias, is burgeoning. However, it’s still a rarely seen specialty in the Central New York area as well as other parts of the country.
“Our specialty is greatly needed in the region,” Dr. Ahmed says. “That is especially true in the large area between Syracuse and the counties surrounding Watertown and up toward the Canadian border, where there aren’t any hospitals offering electrophysiology services and there are no board-certified electrophysiologists practicing.”
“We had many patients, for example, driving three hours one way just for a consultation at our East Syracuse office, which placed an incredible burden on patients, especially if they worked,” Dr. Ahmed adds. “We realized we could do more for our patients and expand access to underserved populations in these remote areas by opening up additional locations.”
In addition to opening new locations, recruitment is underway to bring in experts in interventional cardiology as well as noninvasive cardiology, both high-demand subspecialties that are underrepresented in the area, Dr. Ahmed says.
Leading-edge Curative and Preventive Strategies
True embracers of change and innovation, The Heart Group works tirelessly to stay abreast of the most advanced technologies as well as the latest practice care guidelines as recommended by the American College of Cardiology and Heart Rhythm Society. In 2014, for example, the group became the first cardiology practice in Central New York to offer and perform a noninvasive subcutaneous implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) implantation, a leading-edge procedure that helps protect patients from sudden cardiac arrest and that does not require that the device touch the heart and major vasculature. Other notable developments in the region pioneered by providers with The Heart Group, who were early adopters of this successful technique, include treating Afib using cryoablation, which involves freezing electrical pathways in the heart that cause irregular heartbeats. The use of advanced heart rhythm diagnostics and monitoring to detect silent arrhythmias that lead to strokes is also effectively refined and implemented by the providers with The Heart Group, who work in close collaboration with neurologists to avoid recurrences of this devastating condition.
Jamal J. Ahmed, MD, and Traian M. Anghel, MD, review a patient’s information.
“Guidelines in our field are evolving all the time, and experts continue, through large clinical trials, to gain data and knowledge, of these cardiac conditions and potential treatments and offer best practices for managing and monitoring these conditions,” Dr. Anghel says. “As an example, treatment guidelines for Afib have changed at a rapid pace in recent years, and now ablation — a treatment option that used to be considered a secondary treatment choice — is recommended as the first line of treatment, as it is the only way to provide curative relief to patients.”
Dr. Ahmed adds that, thankfully, the vast majority of cardiac arrhythmias are curable with ablation.
While curing these diseases is the practice’s primary focus, the group also places much emphasis on preventing heart diseases as well as relieving the burden these diseases can place on patients.
“We are deeply dedicated to identifying and screening patients via a global assessment for risk factors and developing conditions that can increase the odds of patients developing significant heart disease,” Dr. Ahmed says. “The advent of regional health information systems — that is, shared electronic medical records — coupled with ever-evolving and improving guidelines and screening technologies, enables us to detect these conditions early on or even prevent them from occurring in the first place. Risk factors need to be understood, carefully addressed and closely followed for optimal patient outcomes.”
For more information about The Heart Group, visit epcuse.com.