It's obvious to treat the symptoms of heart disease, but it may not be enough.
"Although the patient feels better and you feel better because you treated the symptoms, you missed the underlying problem," said Cotton-O'Neil Cardiologist Dr. Thomas Doyle.
That's why Cotton-O'Neil Heart Center formed the Heart Improvement Center. It's a team of health care professionals working proactively to keep patients out of the hospital.
Nurse Nancy Hanni identifies and meets with patients when they're in the hospital.
"We talk with them about the cause of their heart disease and the reasons behind it," Hanni said. She said she also gives patients daily self-monitoring tips, like watching their weight and their salt intake.
Once patients leave the hospital, nurses Christine Curtis and Carol Bragdon step in.
"We're able to see patients as often as their symptoms need," said Bragdon.
The outpatient nurses help patients deal with the adjustments in their lives, like their diet - illustrating how much salt really is in their food. Bragdon said she teaches patients new ways to shop at the grocery store and read labels.
The frequent contact also allows them to help patients with adjustments in medication and activity.
"We help them feel better on a day to day basis," Curtis said. She said that helps address a fear many patients have that they'll never be the same person and do the same activities again.
The approach seems to be working. Nationally, some 30 percent of heart patients end up re-hospitalized within a year. For the patients who've worked with the Heart Improvement Center the past six months, it's less than ten percent.
"This team is their team. We're there to work with them," Curtis said. "It gives them hope they will get better."
The Heart Improvement Center team was one factor in Stormont Vail recently being named one of the top 100 cardiovascular hospitals in the country.