Written by: Barbara Kieker
Electrophysiologists are among the rarest of doctors, representing less than 1 percent of the 661,400 physicians and surgeons that were practicing in 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Electrophysiologists are cardiologists who complete an extra year of training on the diagnosis and treatment of abnormal heart rhythms. Dr. Kamil Hanna, a board-certified electrophysiologist, has practiced at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital for about five years.
"I perform 200 to 220 device implants each year on patients who come to Phoebe from as far away as Dothan, Al.," Hanna said.
Arrhythmia: A Growing Problem
With the aging of the U.S. population, heart rhythm disturbances or arrhythmias have become a growing problem. In a healthy heart muscle, electricity flows in a regular pattern causing the muscle to contract and the heart to beat. Irregular rhythms increase the risk of cardiac events including heart attacks and sudden cardiac death.
"Electrophysiology is a subspecialty focused on rhythm management of the heart. I perform a spectrum of procedures including implants of pacemakers and defibrillators and treatment procedures such as catheter ablations," Hanna said.
"I also perform laser lead extractions, a high-risk procedure to remove the leads of previous implant procedures."
When Hanna came to Phoebe Putney, the hospital invested in a number of new capabilities to support his practice. New equipment and infrastructure investments included new mapping systems, lasers and lab facilities. In addition, nurses and technicians were trained in unique electrophysiology procedures.
For several years Albany has been one of a handful of cities in Georgia to have a practicing electrophysiologist. The others include Macon, Augusta, Savannah and Atlanta, according to Hanna, who is the only one in South Georgia.
"I know Columbus has been trying to recruit an electrophysiologist for several years without success. Instead they have one come in from Emory one day a week," Hanna said.
The Road to Albany
Hanna came to the U.S. from Sweden in 1994 on a visa that enabled him to complete a maximum of seven years of medical training before returning to Sweden. At the end of his internal medicine, cardiology and electrophysiology training, which took seven years, Hanna and his wife had a decision to make: Return to Sweden or remain in the U.S. by agreeing to practice in an underserved area for three years.
"We decided to move to Cape Girardeau, Mo., which is a small town on the Mississippi River between Memphis to the south and St. Louis to the north. After three years there, we wanted a bigger town so we moved to Springfield, Mo.," Hanna said.
After the birth of their third child in Springfield, Hanna's wife who is from southern Arkansas wanted to move to a warmer climate. Hanna had connections in Macon, Ga. and a job opportunity there, but his wife preferred Albany.
"She really liked the feel of Albany so I was able to arrange a position at Phoebe," Hanna said.
Hanna thoroughly enjoys his practice even though it is challenging to be one of the few electrophysiologists practicing in the U.S. While demand is growing for heart rhythm management, the number of electrophysiologists is not growing, according to Hanna.
"Not many cardiologists want to commit to another year of training. I was one of two in my electrophysiology fellowship at Oklahoma in 2001 and the other fellow left after only two weeks," Hanna said. "It was brutal and he basically said I don't have to work this hard."
The electrophysiology procedures and testing that Hanna performs are part of the reason Phoebe Putney is recognized at the region's leader in advanced cardiac care. Phoebe's cardiology program includes seven cardiologists supported by a team of medical professionals who have performed more cardiology procedures than all other Southwest Georgia hospitals combined.