If you have a heart attack, doctors say the time it takes to get to the hospital and into surgery can make the difference between life and death.
In Montgomery County, first responders have a new tool to help cut down on that time.
The LifeNet program uses updated electrocardiogram--or EKG--technology that can transmit heart rhythm data and vital signs to emergency physicians while patients are still en-route to the hospital.
The data is sent directly and securely to the appropriate staff for diagnosis, shaving off critical time that can ultimately make a difference in patient survival.
"The key to good outcomes for individuals having a heart attack is preservation of the heart muscle," said Dr. Greg Kumkumian. "The quicker a blocked artery is opened, the less damage to the heart muscle and therefore the better a patient does."
The hardware rolled out in May with two-thirds of the country's transport units now equipped with the technology. In the past three months, 100 percent of patients were treated in 90 minutes or less, from the time they arrived at the hospital to the moment of cath lab intervention.
"The goal is 90 minutes," said Montgomery County Fire Asst. Chief Diane Zuspan. "We used to meet that goal about 75 to 80 percent [of the time]. Sometimes [even] up to 90 percent in a quarter."
Beyond increased survival rates, first responders say the faster response also improves quality of life.
"They're allowed to leave our hospitals much sooner with much more productive lives than, say, 20 years ago when people may not leave a hospital for a week to ten days," said Montgomery County Fire Asst. Chief Scott Graham.
Ultimately, first responders say it's up to patients to call 911 when they recognize the symptoms of a heart attack. Those symptoms include chest pain or pressure, discomfort in the arms, shoulders or neck, difficulty breathing, and others.