Study: More Hospitals Can Safely Unclog Arteries

By MARILYNN MARCHIONE | November 14, 2011 | 12:45 PM EST

In this July 20, 2011 photo, emergency room physician David Hagedorn examines Shirley Ellsworth at a tent hospital housing St. Johns Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Mo. The hospital had always been there for the victims of calamity. But it had never been a victim, itself. Then on May 22, 2011, one of America's worst tornados in half a century took dead aim at St. John's Regional Medical Center. Their building would crumble around them, but their hospital would survive. That was never in doubt. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Orlando, Fla. (AP) — A large study finds that it is OK to have a non-emergency procedure to open clogged heart arteries in a hospital that doesn't have surgeons ready to operate if something goes wrong.

Doctors say the procedure, called balloon angioplasty, has become so safe that surgical backup is no longer needed. Only about 20 states allow this now, and hospitals in some areas have sued so they can offer the procedure.

More than a million angioplasties are done each year in the United States. Most are non-emergency cases for people having chest pain because clogged arteries are keeping enough blood from reaching the heart.

The study was discussed Monday at an American Heart Association conference in Florida.