16 August 1999

Rhine-Neckar Cardiac Centre a Pioneering Institution in Germany and Europe

Cooperation between the university hospital complexes of Heidelberg and Mannheim – A further stage in the implementation of the agreement finalised late last year

"Home is where the heart is" could well be the motto for the new venture embarked on by the university hospital complexes in Heidelberg and Mannheim. The idea behind it is to provide even better care for heart patients in the region than before. To this end the two universities have founded the "Rhine-Neckar Cardiac Centre" planned to swing into operation this coming September. The venture is a further stage in the implementation of the cooperation agreement finalised late last year.

Of course there are already a number of heart care centres in Germany. But so far all of them have been cast in the classical mould: various different units under one roof, the patient comes to the Centre for care. The new thing about the Rhine-Neckar model is that it sets out to bring medical care to the patient rather than vice versa. Here, decentralisation would be the obvious answer. The argument in favour of centralisation on the other hand is that treatment expertise improves in direct proportion to the number of patients treated at a given unit.

The way out of this dilemma, asserts Prof. Dr. Eike Martin, chairman of the board of directors of the University of Heidelberg hospital complex, is to create "virtual centres". Diagnosis and treatment for heart patients from the two locations will be provided in cardiology centres in Mannheim and Heidelberg. The different departments existing at present in the two hospital complexes are to be amalgamated into units presided over by a medical director. As far as is possible, patients with heart trouble will be given the care they need by the unit nearest to them. Certain specialised diagnostic and therapeutic services will be available at one location only, however. Patients needing heart surgery will be operated on at the Surgical Hospital in Heidelberg.

In future, children with heart trouble will be examined and treated on the basis of unified criteria at the Pediatric Cardiology units in Mannheim and Heidelberg under the aegis of the Heidelberg director. They can thus be provided with all the cardiac care expertise the region has at its disposal. Again heart surgery will be be performed in Heidelberg but follow-up care will be supplied by the location nearest to the patient's home.

Wolfgang Pfoehler, managing director of the Mannheim University Hospital Complex gGmbH, underlines the variety of ways in which patients will profit from this set-up. They can be assured at all times of receiving the kind of diagnostic and therapeutic care best suited to their particular case. And the fact that not all the equipment needed for expensive highly specialised examinations has to be available at all venues means that on-site technology can be tailored even more accuately to the needs of specific groups of patients.

The unification of approaches at the Cardiac Centre will take place in stages. Clinical findings can be exchanged electronically, thus avoiding exposure of patients to repeated diagnostic examinations that both place them under unnecessary strain and also send costs rocketing. Patient data security is of course assured at all times.

In addition, the Rhine-Neckar Cardiac Centre as envisaged will be in a position to step up the research into diseases of the heart, emphasize medical faculty deans Prof. Dr. Dr. Hans-Guenther Sonntag and Prof. Dr. Klaus van Ackern. This too will benefit patients. Uncertain diagnoses can be submitted to the "Cardiac Centre", where scientists from a broad array of disciplines cooperate with clinicians to tackle problems as a team.

Clinical care cannot function without the integration of the family doctors and cardiologists looking after the patients on a regular basis. Optimum care can only be achieved in conjunction with these latter. In the longer term the Cardiac Centre thus intends to integrate this group of physicians in such a way as to assure an ideal system of cooperative care for patients. As Manfred Rummer, bursar of the University of Heidelberg Hospital Complex, points out, the division of economic and legal responsibility among the partners involved will be of paramount importance. Cooperative care as envisaged by the new Cardiac Centre thus puts the concerns of the patients squarely in the forefront of interest.

Inquiries should be addressed to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: +49 (0) 6221/542310, fax: 542317

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