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Congenital Heart Program gains accreditation from ACHA

Jan. 21, 2021, 10:00 AM


by Matt Batcheldor

The Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA) has awarded the Vanderbilt Adult Congenital Heart Program status as an Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) Accredited Comprehensive Care Center — the first in Tennessee.

Congenital heart disease encompasses a wide range of cardiac conditions that begin before birth, affecting between 1% and 2% of births, said Benjamin Frischhertz, MD, director of the Vanderbilt Adult Congenital Heart Program. Improved survivorship of congenital heart disease has led to an increasing number of patients living into adulthood and has given birth to the field of adult congenital heart disease.

The Adult Congenital Heart Association’s mission is to improve and extend the lives of the millions born with heart defects through education, advocacy and research. The goal of ACHA’s accreditation program is to advance and standardize the quality of care for the growing ACHD field. There are currently 37 such accredited programs in 24 states, seven of which are in the Southeast.

Gaining the accreditation was a joint effort of Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute (VHVI), the Department of Cardiac Surgery, the Division of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery, the Department of Medicine and the Department of Pediatrics, said Frischhertz. Vanderbilt’s ACHD program has been built over decades thanks to the hard work and vision of the late Thomas Graham, MD; the late Gottlieb C. (Bud) Friesinger II, MD; Frank Fish, MD; Benjamin Byrd III, MD; and Larry Markham, MD, MSCR, among others.

“I believe that the ACHA ACHD Accreditation Program is a very important resource that patients and their families can use to make informed decisions in where they choose to seek care,” said Frischhertz, assistant professor of Medicine. “When an institution meets the standards of the ACHA ACHD Accreditation Program, patients can know they can expect excellence: A full array of cardiac and surgical resources that is coherently organized into an ACHD program that can tailor quaternary level care to patients in the context of their individual congenital heart diseases.”

The accreditation process lasted a year and a half and involved writing 40 new policies, many of them written by Angela Weingarten, MD, MSCI, assistant professor of Medicine and Pediatrics. “Vanderbilt’s ACHA Accreditation shows the institution’s commitment to providing excellent care to this complex group of patients,” Weingarten said.

Many ACHD patients with moderate or severe complexity did not survive to adulthood 30 to 40 years ago, Frischhertz said. Thanks to medical advances, the majority now live to adulthood.

Vanderbilt’s program allows patients to seamlessly transition from the pediatric program at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt to the adult program at Vanderbilt University Adult Hospital and to continue to receive the specialized cardiac care that they require.

“We have long been a center of specialty and excellence for the treatment and management of adult congenital heart disease,” said Daniel Muñoz, MD, MPA, interim co-director of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. “The ACHD accreditation really cements and amplifies the message that we are a destination center for the most complex congenital heart disease. We’re very proud of what that accreditation represents and what it signals about our abilities.”

“This accreditation speaks to our vision to serve as a regional and national leader for a full range of cardiovascular services,” added Dan Roden, MD, interim co-director of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. “As these patients age into adulthood, it is important to understand how their congenital heart disease and its treatments play into managing their long-term cardiovascular risk and care.”

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