As heart-care labs spread to smaller medical centers across the United States, patients in suburban Charlotte have more options for receiving services in their own backyard. Novant Health Matthews Medical Center became a full- service heart center four years ago, and now Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center is in process of doing the same.

 The Huntersville hospital has opened a catheterization laboratory, or “cath lab,” to provide heart-related evaluations and treatments. “A cath lab is like an operating room where nonsurgical and some minor surgical procedures are done to evaluate and treat the full spectrum of heart problems,” said Dr. Gary Niess , an interventional cardiologist and the Heart and Vascular Institute service line physician lead for the Charlotte market.    

 Some of the procedures that can take place in a cath lab include:

  • Diagnostic X-rays which evaluate the flow of blood through the heart’s valves.

  • A check of the heart muscle to look for evidence of heart failure.

  • A check of the coronary arteries to look for angina and heart attack.

  • Checks of arteries and veins for blood clots, and control of electrical problems of the heart for patients with fast or slow heartbeats or ablating bad electrical fibers.

  • Implantation of pacemakers and defibrillators.

     About half of the procedures and treatments are done on an outpatient basis, said Niess.

 “In the past, procedures such as angioplasty were only done in specialized centers at major medical institutions,” he said. “With the evolution of technology in heart treatment and now that these treatments are extremely well-developed, they can safely be done closer to home.”

 Getting treatment quickly in the event of a heart attack is critical, he added. And for many communities south and north of Charlotte, getting to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center can take a long time, which can impact the damage done to the heart muscle during the heart attack, Niess said.

 It’s also a matter of convenience for many people. “Patients don’t want to navigate traffic or look for parking.”

 While most heart procedures can be done at these new centers, some may still require travelling to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.

 “We have developed programs at Salisbury, Matthews and more recently Huntersville to allow patients to have procedures and care close to home,” Niess said. “More than 90 percent of heart cath procedures can be done in these centers by physicians and technologists all who have done thousands of the procedures already. Outpatient procedures can often get the patient home by lunchtime without need to travel. Inpatient procedures allow patients who prefer their local hospitals to have diagnosis and treatment without transfer to another facility.”

 While most heart procedures can be done at these new centers, some may still require travelling to Presbyterian Medical Center.

 Those procedures – about 10 percent of heart cath treatments performed – are not as commonly needed. They require subspecialized training by the doctors performing them and more specialized equipment, which is why those procedures are performed at Presbyterian Medical Center, Niess explained.

 The cath lab is only one piece of the program that Novant Health Heart and Vascular Institute is offering local communities. It’s also expanding services in the fast-growing Lake Norman area by adding a number of subspecialists in cardiovascular services to the cardiac providers already there.     

How's your heart health? 

Novant Health has launched a communitywide campaign called the 10,000 Healthy Hearts Challenge. The goal: to educate 10,000 people about their heart health by 2018. Take the  online heart health risk assessment , which analyzes cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes and body mass index. Then, tag five friends on social media using #NHHealthyHearts to spread the word. Once you accept the challenge, look for helpful wellness tips, recipe ideas and stress management reminders sent to your inbox to manage your heart health.