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Dr. Mark Wathen – Sparking an interest in the electrophysiology of the heart

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dr. Mark Wathen.

If you want to receive medical care from a physician who is considered one of the leaders in his profession, you’d have to go to a big metro hospital or a world-renown facility like the Mayo Clinic, right?

Not when it comes to Cookeville Regional Medical Center and the specialized practice of cardiac electrophysiology. Dr. Mark Wathen is known as one of the leading experts in the field, with half of the cardiac electrophysiologists in the state falling under his tutelage.

Electrophysiology is the study of electrical properties of biological cells and tissue. The cardiac focus deals with the electrical activities of the heart, and more specifically, heart rhythm.

“Heart rhythm problems are the number one cause of heart death in the country,” said Wathen. “Whether it’s a rhythm that is too fast or one that is too slow, we can treat it with medicine or with a surgical device implantation. Basically, my focus is on the electrical functioning of the heart as opposed to the ‘plumbing.’”

Wathen recently joined The Heart and Vascular Center at Cookeville Regional and the Tennessee Heart practice. He came to Cookeville from Vanderbilt Medical Center, where he also served as an associate professor of medicine in the division of cardiology for the teaching hospital. Over the course of his 20 years at Vanderbilt, Wathen served as the director of the electrophysiology laboratory, where he conducted numerous clinical trials and studies.

Wathen said he aims to continue his role as a recognized leader in cardiac electrophysiology in Cookeville, which will put Cookeville Regional “on the map” as a clinical center of excellence.

“There is a real need here in this area for cardiac electrophysiological services. What I’m able to offer to Cookeville and the Upper Cumberland is these services at the highest possible level. When a patient’s cardiac physician needs the consultation of an electrophysiologist, I’m right here,” said Wathen.

But why Cookeville? Wathen had opportunities to join the Mayo and Cleveland clinics, but said he preferred the lifestyle a smaller micropolitan area like Cookeville affords him. He grew up in a small Kentucky town, and appreciates the aspects of a simpler life.

In fact, a simpler life is one of the reasons he decided to move on from Vanderbilt in the first place.

“Between teaching, my practice and research, I felt the need to simplify and focus a bit more on the clinical and treatment components to my work. Honestly, I never thought I could do my work at a high level in a small community. But Cookeville Regional is not a ‘small community’ hospital,” explained Wathen. “This is a cutting-edge, state-of-the-art facility, with a commitment to provide the highest level of care to its patients. Whether that means acquiring new equipment, adding highly qualified specialists or adopting new procedures, the hospital’s leadership is behind it 100 percent.”

Another one of Wathen’s focuses is in developing a more streamlined and efficient process for handling emergent heart rhythm-related issues. He is working with Dr. Sullivan Smith, Cookeville Regional’s emergency room director, to develop a multi-disciplinary task force that will seek ways to revise and update the process for the Code 37 (heart attack) procedure.

Currently when a Code 37 is called, the cardiologist, cardiac catheterization lab staff and nursing supervisor are alerted through a pager system simultaneously. The process helps cut down on wasted time, since every second counts in the event of a heart attack.

But Wathen wants to take it a step further by integrating his expertise in cardiac electrophysiology into the process.

“There is a lot of information in medicine; no one person can be an expert in all of it,” he said. “As part of the emergency room process, if a cardiac electrophysiologist can be alerted and provided the pertinent data, he can instantly diagnose the electrical activities of the heart and determine what treatment is necessary.”

In today’s health care environment, reducing costs through efficiencies is becoming more and more critical both for health care providers and patients.

“Health care costs are rising for so many different reasons. My hope is that through cooperation, integration and information-sharing, we can make our processes even more efficient, which leads to better and more affordable care,” said Wathen.

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