Outreach program: Doctors, heart patients connect for U.P. care options

MARQUETTE – Marquette General Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute has teamed up with Minneapolis-based medical technology company Medtronic to create the Physician Patient Outreach Program, its goal to both inform patients with heart issues of the resources available to them in the U.P. and to be, itself, a resource for heart-healthy living.

Beginning early this year, the program has had cardiologists from the Heart & Vascular Institute, as well as other U.P. heart specialists, give educational lectures to physicians and patients.

“The ones we’ve been having the most success with are the patient outreach…” said Emily Hagge, physician resource specialist at MGH. “We’ve basically been reaching out to a patient audience – (but) clinicians come too, like nurses and different people – that are interested in learning more about the treatments and what’s out there.”

The next program, “Heart Talk With the Doc,” at Bell Hospital on Tuesday Aug. 19, will feature a free heart-healthy meal and a lecture by Dr. Nelson Gencheff, who’s board certified in cardiovascular disease. Hagge said that most of the patients who attend are people who have had some sort of heart problem and want to learn how best to take care of themselves.

“Typically what I’m hearing just in talking to them is that a lot of them are former heart attack patients or they’re in atrial fibrillation or something, so now they’re kind of looking at, ‘Well, I need to make these changes in my lifestyle, I need to make these sorts of changes in my diet,’ etc.,” she said. “So it’s a good way for them to come in and just hear a good presentation, a good FYI, and then we open it up to questions and answers at the end. That’s, I think, the most valuable part to the attendees, is that they get to talk to a specialist for free; they don’t have to pay their copay, they don’t have to wait for weeks to get in for an appointment.”

When the program first started, Hagge said attendance was pretty sparse, with a turnout of only four or five people. Since then, though, the program has been growing in popularity – in large part due to word of mouth.

“Word of mouth is huge in the U.P., too, so people have been telling their friends…” Hagge said. “And we’ve been letting people know, if you can’t make it to this one, we’ll be doing another one soon, so stay tuned.”

In addition to being, itself, a resource for heart patients, the program also seeks to let patients, and their doctors, know that they can get the level care they expect and deserve right here in Marquette County.

“A lot of referring providers don’t necessarily know we have a big team of cardiologists here who specialize in just about everything,” Hagge said. “And I’ve heard people – they just didn’t know. They’re like, ‘Oh, we do open heart surgery in the U.P.?’ Yeah, we do. And unfortunately, we lose a lot of these cases that go down to Green Bay or Petoskey or even farther, Mayo Clinic. When you get a startling diagnosis, your first thought is to (say), ‘OK, we need to talk to Mayo Clinic,’ or ‘We need to go and find the best specialist,’ and a lot of times they just don’t necessarily know that we have the services here. So I think it’s really important for face-time with the doctors … this is a really good, efficient way at least to network and give people the resource and give people the information.”

That knowledge – that they can get expert care with an immediacy not possible when traveling out of the area for help – can be a source of comfort, Hagge said.

That’s really what it’s about, is knowing if they do have a stroke or a heart attack or something, they’re going to be taken care of right here in their backyard,” she said. “Especially with heart attacks … if you can get hooked up in our (cardiac) cath(eterization) lab within, I think it’s an hour and a half, you’re way more likely to preserve heart and brain tissue and all that, as opposed to going down to somebody in Green Bay that maybe doesn’t know you and isn’t part of our community.”

For more information about the Physician Patient Outreach Program, including upcoming lectures and how you can sign up to attend, call Hagge at 225-7950.

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.