Interview with the Father of Interventional Cardiology

On June 29, Dr. Merril Knudtson was named a Member of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honour. He is in the company of 42 new appointments, including former Alberta premier Ralph Klein and Lois Mitchell, who were also named members by Governor General David Johnston.

Photo by Riley Brandt, courtesy of the University of Calgary.

“I was totally surprised and overwhelmed,” he says of receiving the news via a phone call from the Governor General’s office.

Knudtson is recognized for his significant contributions to cardiology and health care. He is a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta (an entity of the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services) and a professor in the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences.

Known as the father of interventional cardiology in Canada, Knudtson is one of the first cardiologists in the country to perform a coronary angioplasty. In 1981, he completed the first procedure which helps to open a narrow or blocked artery in in the heart and went on to establish a training program to teach other doctors how to do it.

He also created the APPROACH project (Alberta Provincial Project for Outcomes Assessments in Coronary Heart Disease) in 1995. This database tracks the long-term outcomes of patients with coronary artery disease across Canada. The tool pioneered a way to monitor and electronically record important data such as hospital readmission stats, death rates and quality of life questionnaires and currently tracks more than 200,000 patients with chronic heart disease in Alberta.

APPROACH is now one of the world’s largest and most-encompassing cardiac registries which give healthcare providers and patients a clearer, more realistic, picture of how effective certain cardiac procedures or treatments are over time. It is so successful that more than 18 major cardiovascular centres across Canada have adopted the APPROACH model. The database continues to expand to include patients from hospitals in B.C., Saskatchewan, Ontario and Newfoundland. And internationally, APPROACH is attracting the attention of partners in China who are in discussion to adopt the system for a pilot project in Harbin.

“This award is a validation of the APPROACH mandate of improving medical communication and using data on outcome to improve the health status of all patients with chronic diseases,” says Knudtson.

“My goal has always been to improve patient care nationally by promoting excellence and accountability within the specialty. Hopefully through this announcement, other healthcare workers also will be motivated to follow this pathway to the benefit of their patients.”

Later this fall, Knudtson will join the other winners at Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence in Ottawa, to be honoured at a ceremony.

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