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Reperfusion therapy for ST elevation acute myocardial infarction in Europe: description of the current situation in 30 countries

Petr Widimsky, William Wijns, Jean Fajadet, Mark de Belder, Jiri Knot, Lars Aaberge, George Andrikopoulos, Jose Antonio Baz, Amadeo Betriu, Marc Claeys, Nicholas Danchin, Slaveyko Djambazov, Paul Erne, Juha Hartikainen, Kurt Huber, Petr Kala, Milka Klinčeva, Steen Dalby Kristensen, Peter Ludman, Josephina Mauri Ferre, Bela Merkely, Davor Miličić, Joao Morais, Marko Noč, Grzegorz Opolski, Miodrag Ostojić, Dragana Radovanovič, Stefano De Servi, Ulf Stenestrand, Martin Studenčan, Marco Tubaro, Zorana Vasiljević, Franz Weidinger, Adam Witkowski, Uwe Zeymer
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehp492 943-957 First published online: 19 November 2009


Aims Patient access to reperfusion therapy and the use of primary percutaneous coronary intervention (p-PCI) or thrombolysis (TL) varies considerably between European countries. The aim of this study was to obtain a realistic contemporary picture of how patients with ST elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) are treated in different European countries.

Methods and results The chairpersons of the national working groups/societies of interventional cardiology in European countries and selected experts known to be involved in the national registries joined the writing group upon invitation. Data were collected about the country and any existing national STEMI or PCI registries, about STEMI epidemiology, and treatment in each given country and about PCI and p-PCI centres and procedures in each country. Results from the national and/or regional registries in 30 countries were included in this analysis. The annual incidence of hospital admission for any acute myocardial infarction (AMI) varied between 90–312/100 thousand/year, the incidence of STEMI alone ranging from 44 to 142. Primary PCI was the dominant reperfusion strategy in 16 countries and TL in 8 countries. The use of a p-PCI strategy varied between 5 and 92% (of all STEMI patients) and the use of TL between 0 and 55%. Any reperfusion treatment (p-PCI or TL) was used in 37–93% of STEMI patients. Significantly less reperfusion therapy was used in those countries where TL was the dominant strategy. The number of p-PCI procedures per million per year varied among countries between 20 and 970. The mean population served by a single p-PCI centre varied between 0.3 and 7.4 million inhabitants. In those countries offering p-PCI services to the majority of their STEMI patients, this population varied between 0.3 and 1.1 million per centre. In-hospital mortality of all consecutive STEMI patients varied between 4.2 and 13.5%, for patients treated by TL between 3.5 and 14% and for patients treated by p-PCI between 2.7 and 8%. The time reported from symptom onset to the first medical contact (FMC) varied between 60 and 210 min, FMC-needle time for TL between 30 and 110 min, and FMC-balloon time for p-PCI between 60 and 177 min.

Conclusion Most North, West, and Central European countries used p-PCI for the majority of their STEMI patients. The lack of organized p-PCI networks was associated with fewer patients overall receiving some form of reperfusion therapy.

  • Acute myocardial infarction
  • Reperfusion therapy
  • Thrombolysis
  • Primary angioplasty
  • Europe
  • Mortality
  • Incidence


Primary percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) and thrombolysis (TL) represent two alternative reperfusion strategies for ST elevation acute myocardial infarction (STEMI). In common, TL is considered to be more widely available and can be started faster than primary PCI. In many randomized clinical trials,16 primary PCI has been shown to be superior to TL in reducing mortality, re-infarction, and stroke. This benefit is related to a much higher early mechanical reperfusion rate (ca. 90%) compared with pharmacological reperfusion rate (ca. 50%), to the ability of simultaneously treating the underlying stenosis and finally to the lower risk of severe bleeding. The most recent European Society of Cardiology (ESC) guidelines7,8 recommend primary PCI as the preferred treatment whenever it is available within 90–120 min of the first medical contact (FMC). The aim of this project was to analyse the use of reperfusion treatments across Europe at the time when these new ESC guidelines were published.


The European Association for Percutaneous Cardiovascular Interventions (EAPCI) invited the chairpersons of the national working groups/societies of interventional cardiology in all 51 European Society of Cardiology (ESC) countries and selected experts known to be involved in the national registries of STEMI to join this project. Positive replies were received from 30 countries. Data were collected about the country and any existing national STEMI or PCI registries, about STEMI hospital admissions and treatment in each given country, and about PCI and primary PCI centres and procedures in each country. Specifically, each participating national working group (or society) provided the precise number of all existing PCI hospitals in the given country and how many of them offer non-stop (24/7) primary PCI services. Primary PCI centre (24/7) was defined as PCI hospital not using TL for the treatment of STEMI patients, in other words hospital performing primary PCI in all STEMI patients, 24 h/day and 7 days/week.

Results from 30 European countries were included in this analysis (Tables 1 and 2). These data reflect the situation in years 2007–2008 for most countries, but in 2006 or 2005 for a few, in whom the most recent data were not available.

View this table:
Table 1

National registries and other sources of the countries’ data for this study

CountryYearSTEMI registry (name)PCI registry (name)Other registry or survey (name)Expert estimate onlyCompleteness of STEMI capturing per period and region
Austria2005–07VIENNA STEMI registry34Austrian Heart Catheter Registry36Austrian Acute PCI Registry37100% in Vienna region, ca. 50% for Austria
Belgium2008Belgian STEMI registryBelgian Working Group Interventional Cardiology registry50%
Bulgaria2007National Health Insurance FundNational Health Insurance Fund, Bulgarian WG Interventional Cardiology100%
Croatia2005–08Croatian Cardiac Society, WG for Acute Coronary SyndromesCroatian Cardiac Society; Hospital PCI RegistriesZagreb AMI Registry; Croatian Institute of Public Health90% for STEMI; 100% for PCI
Czech Republic2005–07CZECH registry (all ACS)19NRKI registry100% for all ACS in the CZECH registry
Denmark2007NoneDanish Heart RegistryFor AMI not undergoing PCI100% for p-PCI
Estonia2008Estonian Myocardial Infarction Registry, WG on Acute Coronary Syndromes100%
France2005FAST-MI33FAR60% of ICUs
Finland2006Registry of Cardiovascular Diseases, National Institute for Health and Welfare18ca. 90% for all AMI
Germany2007–08German Myocardial infarction registry46Herzbericht 20074725%
Greece2006HELIOS14,16Hellenic Study of AMI15100%
Hungary2004–08National Health Insurance DatabaseRegistry of the Working Group of Interventional CardiologyPCI Network in the Middle-Hungarian region (Budapest)100% for all
Italy2006–08VENERE,41 In-ACS (2007); BLITZ 3 (2008)GISE Registry (GISE=Italian Society of Interventional Cardiology)Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS)100% in Veneto Region; p-PCI 100% in GISE (all Italy); 80% in BLITZ 3
Latvia2008Latvian registry of acute coronary syndromesLatvian registry of acute coronary syndromes100%
Lithuania2007–08Lithuanian PCI registryYes for AMIs without PCI100% for p-PCI only
F.Y.R. Macedonia2007–08Hospital based registries in all existing PCI centres95% in Skopje, ca. 80% for Macedonia
The Netherlands2008Dutch National PCI Registry (BHN)
Norway2007PCI-hospital based registriesFor patients not treated by PCINot known (PCI data only)
Poland2004–07PL-ASC RegistryPCI registry of the WG on Cardiovascular Interventions of the Polish Cardiac Society100%
Portugal2008National ACS Registry 2002,43 updated 200944N.A.
Serbia2007National Institute for HealthWorking group on interventional cardiology42100%
Slovakia2007SLOVAKS registryRegistry of the Working Group Interventional Cardiology (Slovak Society of Cardiology)46% of all STEMI and 100% of p-PCI in Slovakia
Slovenia2007National surveyNational survey100%
Spain2007Registro Español de Hemodinámica y Cardiología Intervencionista45Yes for AMIs without PCIN.A.
Switzerland2007AMIS Plus (STEMI/NSTEMI/UA registry48–50)Swiss PCI survey51100% for p-PCI, 43% for STEMIs
Turkey2007TUMAR registryYes, partlyN.A.
UK2005–08Myocardial Ischaemia National Audit Project (MINAP)38British Cardiovascular Intervention Society (BCIS)39 and Central Cardiac Audit database (CCAD)40100%
View this table:
Table 2

Population data and acute myocardial infarction annual incidence

CountryCountry population (www.populationmondiale.com)Hospitalized STEMI/yearSTEMI/100 thousand/yearHospitalized AMI (any)AMI/100 thousand/year
Austria8 199 78378009516 000195
Belgium10 584 53470006612 000114
Bulgaria7 640 238872611411 285148
Croatia4 493 312360082N.A.N.A.
Czech Republic10 228 74467616620 048196
Denmark5 468 120N.A.N.A.N.A.N.A.
Estonia1 315 91217511333502266
France62 448 97735 0005565 000105
Finland5 300 48446748816 446310
Germany82 217 837100 000121208 000250
Greece10 706 29011 78011019 853185
Hungary9 956 10889008918 500186
Italy58 147 73367 500116147.500254
Israel7 337 00055007510 000136
Latvia2 270 894143763N.A.N.A.
Lithuania3 575 439300084N.A.N.A.
F.Y.R. Macedonia2 049 613176586N.A.N.A.
The Netherlands16 405 399N.A.N.A.N.A.N.A.
Norway4 703 77939008312 650276
Poland38 518 24150 00013090 000234
Portugal10 642 83611 104104N.A.N.A.
Romania22 276 05610 0004520 00090
Serbia7 400 0006079828655117
Slovakia5 447 5223635677635140
Slovenia2 009 245121060N.A.N.A.
Spain45 116 89440 00089120 000266
Sweden9 031 08860006621 000232
Switzerland7 593 494N.A.N.A.11 337149
Turkey70 586 256100 000142220 000312
UK60 776 23827 00044105 000173
  • STEMI, ST elevation acute myocardial infarction; AMI, acute myocardial infarction, N.A., not available.

Those national data already published are listed in the references section927 and the names of ongoing registries and/or surveys are listed in the appendix and more details in Table 1.

Besides obtaining the numbers from the individual countries, the contributors were also asked to describe subjectively, what they consider to be the main barriers for better p-PCI implementation and to comment on the possible influence of hospital/staff reimbursement on the local situation.

Statistical analysis

Data are presented in the descriptive format as we received them from each individual country (see appendix for the list of contributors). The SPSS 12.0 statistical package was used to fit the linear regression lines.


Annual incidence of hospital admission for acute myocardial infarction

The annual incidence of hospital admission for any acute myocardial infarction (AMI) varied between 90–312/100 000 inhabitants/year and the incidence of hospital admissions for STEMI alone between 44–142/100 000 inhabitants/year (Table 2).

Reperfusion strategy use

Primary PCI is the dominant reperfusion strategy in 16 countries and TL in 8 countries. From five countries (Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Norway, and Spain), only information about primary PCI (and not about TL) was available. The use of a p-PCI strategy varies between 5 and 92% (of all STEMI patients) and the use of TL between 0 and 55%. Any reperfusion treatment (p-PCI or TL) is used in 37–93% of STEMI patients (Figure 1). Overall, in those countries using TL as the dominant strategy, the overall population receiving some form of reperfusion therapy is lower (only 55% patients are treated, although this varied considerably from country to country).

Figure 1

Hospitalized STEMI treatment in Europe (data from national registries or surveys). 100%, all hospitalized STEMI patients in each given country; green colour, STEMI patients treated by primary PCI; red colour, STEMI patients treated by thrombolysis; black colour, STEMI patients not treated with any reperfusion. Countries abbreviations: CZ, Czech Republic; SLO, Slovenia; DE, Germany; CH, Switzerland; PL, Poland; HR, Croatia; SE, Sweden; HU, Hungary; BE, Belgium; IL, Israel; IT, Italy; FIN, Finland; AT, Austria; FR, France; SK, Slovakia; LAT, Latvia; UK, United Kingdom; BG, Bulgaria; PO, Portugal; SRB, Serbia; GR, Greece; TR, Turkey; RO, Romania.

The population need for primary PCI services

The number of primary PCI procedures per 100 000 inhabitants per year (Table 3; Figure 2) ranged from 2 to 97. The mean population served by a single p-PCI centre (Table 4) varies between 0.3 and 7.4 million inhabitants. In those countries offering p-PCI services to the majority of their STEMI patients, this population varies between 0.3 and 1.1 million per centre. There was a weak correlation between numbers of PCI procedures and the gross domestic product per capita (Figure 3; Table 3).

Figure 2

Primary PCIs per year per million inhabitants in European countries. Grey colour, no data available; blue colour, countries participating in this study.

Figure 3

Correlation between the annual number of PCI procedures per million population and the gross domestic product per capita in European countries. (A) All PCI procedures. (B) Primary PCI procedures.

View this table:
Table 3

Percutaneous coronary interventions (PCI) per one million inhabitants compared with gross domestic product (GDP) per capital (in US dollars, according to the UN statistics for 2007, http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/socind/inc-eco.htm)

CountryAll PCIs/yearAll PCIs/millionPrimary PCIs/year (% of all PCIs)Primary PCIs/millionGDP per capita (US$)
Austria19 34223583500 (18%)42644 652
Belgium22 00020793300 (15%)31243 469
Bulgaria60007851801 (30%)2365177
Croatia40008901150 (22%)25511 256
Czech Republic21 53121056720 (31%)65716 880
Denmark10 50019202691 (26%)48157 256
Estonia24711878485 (20%)36915 932
France120 000192114 400 (12%)23140 089
Finland88941678826 (9%)15646 370
Germany299 600366060 000 (20%)73040 162
Greece19 31118041022 (5%)9528 111
Hungary18 50018585700 (31%)57313 777
Italy128 428216122 421 (17%)37635 585
Israel20 00027263500 (17%)47723 382
Latvia59562624410 (7%)18111 930
Lithuania414311591485 (36%)41511 307
F.Y.R. Macedonia25161227981 (39%)4783703
The Netherlands36 367221711 201 (31%)68346 669
Norway11 89025302632 (22%)56082 464
Poland75 024194826 457 (35%)68711 007
Portugal98739191902 (19%)17920 990
Romania6560294450 (7%)207523
Serbia63958641161 (18%)1575382
Slovakia573010611924 (34%)35613 701
Slovenia333616611043 (31%)51922 936
Spain60 457134011 322 (19%)25132 450
Sweden19 00021035421 (29%)60049 873
Switzerland36 81748497363 (20%)97056 578
Turkey70 0009915500 (8%)786511
UK77 37312738153 (11%)13445 549
View this table:
Table 4

Numbers of PCI centres and population per one centre

CountryAll PCI centresPopulation per any PCI centrePrimary PCI centres (non-stop, 24/7)Population per primary PCI centre (24/7)
Austria34282 75124341 000
Belgium36294 01530352 817
Bulgaria21363 8209850 000
Croatia10449 3318561 664
Czech Republic22464 94322464 943
Denmark7781 16051 093 624
Estonia3438 6372657 956
France210297 376200312 245
Finland24220 85322 650 242
Germany430190 000310265 000
Greece40267 657101 071 000
Hungary16622 25713765 854
Italy242240 270164354 559
Israel22333 50016458 563
Latvia5454 17912 270 894
Lithuania6595 90631 191 813
F.Y.R.Macedonia3683 2043683 204
The Netherlands22745 70022745 700
Norway8587 5006783 963
Poland95405 45574520 516
Portugal19560 15891 182 555
Romania121 856 3380N.A.
Serbia9822 22217 400 000
Slovakia6916 66641 375 000
Slovenia5401 84921 004 745
Spain129349 74356805 658
Sweden29311 41713694 699
Switzerland27281 24020379 675
Turkey157449 592352 016 742
UK98620 165232 642 445
  • Primary PCI centre (24/7) was defined as PCI hospital not using thrombolysis for the treatment of STEMI patients, in other words hospital performing primary PCI in all STEMI patients, 24 h/day and 7 days/week.


The in-hospital mortality of all consecutive STEMI patients (Table 5) varies between 4.2 and 13.5%, for patients treated by TL between 3.5 and 14%, and for patients treated by primary PCI between 2.7 and 8%.

View this table:
Table 5

In-hospital mortality (in %) of acute myocardial infarction

CountryAll STEMIsSTEMIs treated by primary PCISTEMIs treated by thrombolysisAll AMIs (STEMI+non-STEMI)
Czech Republic8.66.7N.A.6.3
The NetherlandsN.A.N.A.N.A.N.A.

Time delays

The time from symptom onset to the FMC (defined as the time of diagnostic ECG) ranged from 60 to 210 min, FMC-needle time for TL between 30 and 110 min and FMC-balloon time for p-PCI between 60 and 177 min. These FMC-balloon times are given for all primary PCI procedures, irrespective of whether the patient underwent interhospital transfer or was directly admitted to the PCI hospital (Table 6; Figures 4 and 5).

Figure 4

Time delays in patients treated by thrombolysis: ‘symptom onset—first medical contact’ and ‘first medical contact—start of thrombolysis’ time.

Figure 5

Time delays in patients treated by p-PCI: ‘symptom onset—first medical contact’ and ‘first medical contact—balloon’ time.

View this table:
Table 6

Median time delays (in min) in reperfusion therapy

CountrySymptoms onset: first medical contact (FMC) timeFMC-thrombolysis (needle) timeFMC-primary PCI (balloon) time
Czech Republic150N.A.120
The NetherlandsN.A.N.A.N.A.
  • In some countries, the FMC time is not reported and instead, the door-needle or door-balloon times are in the table.

STEMI initial presentation

Only approximately half of the patients arrive at the hospital via an EMS ambulance. This proportion varies considerably between countries: from 17% (Greece) to 85% (UK) (Figure 6).

Figure 6

Percentage of STEMI patients arriving to the first hospital via EMS services. In the UK, Norway, Switzerland, and Sweden, physicians are only in ambulance helicopters, paramedics are in ambulance cars. In all other countries, physicians are in most or all EMS ambulances (cars and helicopters).


Geographic differences, heterogenity of care

Primary PCI appears to be now the dominant treatment of STEMI in the majority of countries: Scandinavia (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland), Central Europe (Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, Hungary, Austria, and Croatia), West Europe (Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands), Italy, and Israel. Several countries have the infrastructure available, but do not use it sufficiently to treat most of their AMI patients—this holds true especially for the South Europe (Greece, Bulgaria, Portugal, Spain, and Turkey) and for the UK and Slovakia (however, national programs for p-PCI implementation have already started in these latter two countries). The described ‘North-South gradient’ in primary PCI services is typically seen in Italy: the Northern part of Italy has p-PCI rates similar to Central or West Europe, while the Southern part of Italy has rates similar to Greece or Turkey. Unfortunately, no or few data have been obtained from Ireland, Iceland, East Europe (Belarus, Ukraina, Russia, Moldova, Bosnia i Herzegovina, FYROM, Albania, and Georgia) and from the Mediterranean non-European countries (ESC members).

The heterogeneity of care is known from international registries—e.g. the GRACE registry showed that the care-seeking behaviour in patients with acute coronary disease differs among countries or continents.28

Annual incidence of the hospital admissions for acute myocardial infarction

The annual incidence of hospital admission for any AMI varied considerably, as was the case for the incidence of STEMI alone. Those countries with the most precise data (e.g. covering 100% of the population either in the whole country or in selected regions/counties—see Table 1) reported the incidence close to the overall mean numbers (ca. 1900 for all AMIs and ca. 800 for STEMIs). In other words, the annual incidence of ca. 1900 hospital admissions for any AMI per year per million population seems to be typical for the European population. This can be used for planning infrastructure because most of these patients will need coronary angiography and subsequent PCI or CABG during their hospital stay.

Reperfusion strategy use

It is of note that primary PCI is already today the leading reperfusion strategy in most European countries. Several countries can serve as evidence that p-PCI may be able to be offered to as many as 70–90% of all STEMI patients in the whole country. An increased use of primary PCI as the preferred reperfusion therapy is identified by this data when compared with the second Euro Heart Survey on Acute Coronary Syndromes (EHS-ACS-II).29 Results of our study challenge the traditional opinion that TL is the strategy more suitable for widespread application. In some countries, the opposite appears to be true: reperfusion as a whole is offered to less of the STEMI population in those countries using TL as the dominant strategy. This may be related to the many contraindications for thrombolytic therapy and also to the fear of using TL in patients over 75 years of age, who present a significant proportion of all STEMI patients today (e.g. 31% of all hospitalized AMI patients in the Netherlands30). Thus p-PCI, despite its logistic complexity, appears to offer broader population reach in some countries.

The population need for primary PCI services

The number of primary PCI procedures per million per year in these countries, covering their population needs, varies between ca. 600 and 900 per million. In these countries, one PCI centre is serving a population of ca. 0.3–0.8 million per centre. These numbers might serve as a reference for planning the infrastructure.


The data on mortality between countries cannot be directly compared due to the different methodology of the national registries or surveys. The Czech Republic can serve as an example of these methodological limitations: the in-hospital mortality after p-PCI in the national PCI registry reported by the cardiologists was 3.5%, while after matching the data with the national deaths registry this number rose to 6.7%. This can be explained by the fact that cardiologists are frequently entering the registry data immediately after the procedure, when the patient is subsequently moved from the interventional cardiology unit to another unit (long-term facility, local community hospital, cardiac surgery, long-term rehabilitation unit, etc.) and thus they do not reflect the true (total) hospital outcome.

As with all registries, these data must be interpreted with great caution. The demographic features of patients treated by p-PCI may well be different from those treated by TL. In the National Infact Angioplasty Project (NIAP) study in the UK, for example, the patients treated by p-PCI were younger than those treated by TL, suggesting a tendency to use p-PCI in fitter patients who have a lower predicted mortality regardless of treatment strategy. Conversely, it is also possible that some of the difference is due to the ‘real world’ inclusion of higher risk patients, for whom the differential benefits of PCI might be greater. The highest risk patients (elderly, cardiogenic shock, polymorbid, etc.) are usually excluded from the randomized trials and p-PCI is certainly an optimal treatment for this high-risk group, while TL is associated with high mortality or high complication rates in cardiogenic shock or elderly patients.

The lack of information about the baseline characteristics of individual patients in our study and subsequently the inability to statistically compensate for probable differences between the two reperfusion groups prohibit us from making any adjusted comparison of mortality outcome between p-PCI and TL. However, properly analysed consecutive STEMI patients from a whole European country (Sweden) showed that p-PCI was superior to TL with lower 30 day and 1 year mortality.31,32

Time delays

If 30 min (as an expected minimal time to achieve pharmacologic reperfusion) are arbitrarily added to FMC-needle time, then TL is only minimally faster in opening the coronary artery when compared with p-PCI in our study. The importance of time delays can be easily demonstrated on the situation in France: the time delays in reperfused patients are short and thus the mortality is low. Furthermore, the difference (125 min; Table 5) between the short TL-related delay and the long PCI-related delay causes no significant difference in mortality between the two treatment strategies in this country.33 In other words, p-PCI is superior to TL only when the time difference between these two strategies is below 2 h. We are fully aware that this survey cannot directly compare TL and p-PCI. Both treatments can certainly be offered more expeditiously than was shown in this study. This should be one of the main goals for future improvements.

Primary PCI volume per centre and per operator

Primary PCI volume per centre and per operator may influence the outcomes, especially of STEMI patients, where the complexity of care is more important compared with elective PCI. Unfortunately, this study was not designed to collect such data. The experience from countries, using primary PCI for vast majority of their STEMI patients, shows that a population between 0.3 and 1.1 million per one primary PCI (i.e. non-stop, 24/7) centre results in ca. 200–800 primary PCI procedures/year/centre. This may be considered optimal. Population per centre <0.3 million results in low numbers of STEMI and thus the experience of the team may not be sufficient. A population significantly greater than one million results in ‘overload’ of the centre by too many infarcts (of course only if all infarcts from that region are admitted to this centre). The PCI volume per operator is probably less important than PCI volume per centre, as there are very few low volume operators in the high volume centres. The optimal case load may be anywhere between 50–100 primary PCIs/operator/year.


In most European countries (Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Israel, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland), the reimbursement systems supports primary PCI—i.e. the PCI hospital is reimbursed adequately, the non-PCI hospital in general does not lose money by sending patients for primary PCI and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) transfers are reimbursed. In some countries, PCI centres receive reimbursement for primary PCIs, but the small hospitals lose money when STEMI patients are admitted initially to PCI centres (Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, Turkey, and UK) or interhospital transfer is not appropriately reimbursed (Belgium and Bulgaria). In only one country (Romania), PCIs (any) are not adequately reimbursed in general (low limits on numbers of centres and procedures).

Barriers for the implementation of primary PCI in Europe

Reimbursement is only rarely a real problem (see above). EMS interhospital transport is not supported by adequate reimbursement in some countries, and in smaller districts only a single EMS ambulance is in service during the off-hours and cannot go outside this district. Low staffing levels (lack of interventional cardiologists and/or nurses and other support staff) prevent many smaller PCI hospitals running a non-stop (24/7) primary PCI services. A conservative attitude of internists and even some noninvasive cardiologists, who still prefer to use TL instead of sending their patients to other cardiologists, is the most frequently quoted barrier, along with the insufficient motivation of interventional cardiologists and/or nurses to run the non-stop (24/7) services even when the staffing is sufficient (they are often not paid adequately for this activity). The use of helicopters for short distance transfers actually prolongs the delays and should in general be avoided; helicopter transfer is extremely useful for patients with long distance transfers but is expensive. In several countries (Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Norway, and Sweden), the good cooperation between the national society of cardiology, government, and insurance companies (health care funds) significantly contributed to the development of p-PCI services.

This survey suggests that medical and non-medical staff are the main barriers for wider p-PCI implementation: with reasons ranging from low staffing levels (lack of interventional cardiologists and/or nurses and other staff groups) through to the conservative attitude of many physicians and to the insufficient motivation of interventional cardiologists and/or nurses to run demanding non-stop (24/7) services. In some countries, the lack of a systematic training program has resulted in a lack of interventional cardiologists and foreign cardiologists have been invited to work there in order to fill this gap. An inappropriate reimbursement system is the limitation of p-PCI only in a few countries. Some of these problems might be overcome by organizing cooperating networks of PCI hospitals in close vicinity and organized by the local ambulance system (EMS) as shown from the VIENNA STEMI network.34 The formation of local networks might help to reach the goal.35

Limitations of this analysis

While data from 30 countries were included in this analysis, the number of centres that participated in some of the national registries or surveys may not be representative of the countries’ total populations. In addition, data were not gathered during the same period of time (data from countries are based on 2005, 2006, or 2007 registries or surveys depending on what was available in each country at the time of this manuscript preparation). Furthermore, different inclusion criteria to national registries and surveys may lead to selection bias in the patient population. This manuscript cannot objectively compare p-PCI vs. TL. It is possible that hospitals using primary PCI have better resource allocation and organization that allows for better overall management of all aspects of AMI, e.g. staffing of these centres may play an important role. Furthermore, we did not have individual patient level data and it may well be that the patients treated by p-PCI and TL are not matched (e.g. p-PCI patients might be younger than the lytic cohort) and thus caution is needed in making such non-randomized comparisons. The presented data are unvalidated, derived from national registries or surveys that might not have identified all patients with AMI or STEMI. The various registries used here differ from each other in their methodology, this being the major limitation that led us to the decision not to use sophisticated statistics in this manuscript.

Due to the facts that this is a retrospective analysis of multiple national registries, there is a lack of rigour in defining the same entry criteria to these variable registries. Furthermore, the data about all hospital admissions (including non-PCI hospitals) were available only from 16 countries. In the remaining 13 countries, data were limited mostly to PCI centres (plus partial information about admissions to non-PCI hospitals).

However, despite these limitations, we believe that these data are the best available and have clear clinical relevance.


The annual incidence of hospital admission for AMI in Europe is circa 1900 patients per million population with an incidence of STEMI of about 800 per million. A nationwide primary PCI strategy for STEMI results in more patients being offered reperfusion therapy. North, West, and Central Europe have already well-developed primary PCI services, offering primary PCI treatment to 60–90% of all STEMI patients. South Europe and the Balkans are still predominantly using TL—associated with this is a higher proportion of patients left without reperfusion treatment. Countries performing annually >600 primary PCIs per million population and having a mean population per one p-PCI centre <750 000 are able to meet the needs of all their STEMI patients. Countries in which (nearly) all existing PCI centres offer 24/7 p-PCI services appear to exhibit the best results. Overall, there is a substantial heterogenity of practice in Europe and there are many opportunities to improve the care.


The preparation of this manuscript was supported by the European Association for Percutaneous Cardiovascular Interventions, EuroPCR, Eucomed, and partly (P.W.) also by the Charles University Research Project MSM0021620817. Funding to pay the Open Access publication charges for this article was provided by the project MSM0021620817.

Conflict of interest: none declared.


Appendix: the full list of contributors

Austria(VIENNA STEMI Registry, Austrian Acute PCI Registry, Austrian Heart Catheter Registry, and Death Statistics Austria): K.H., F.W.

Belgium (Belgian STEMI registry, Belgian Working Group Interventional Cardiology registry): M.C., Victor Legrand.

Bulgaria: S.D., Vasil Velchev.

Croatia (Croatian Cardiac Society, WG for Acute Coronary Syndromes, Hospital PCI registries, Zagreb Registry of Acute Myocardial Infarction, Croatian Institute for Public Health): D.M., Vjeran Nikolić Heiztler, Zdravko Babić, Mijo Bergovec, Vlasta Hrabak Žerjavić, Verica Kralj.

Czech Republic (CZECH registry, National PCI registry—NRKI): P.W., P.K., Michael Zelizko, Michael Aschermann, Petr Jansky, Frantisek Tousek, Frantisek Holm.

Denmark: S.D.K., Anders Junker.

Estonia: Toomas Marandi.

Finland: J.H.

France: J.F., N.D., Martine Gilard, Didier Blanchard.

Germany (Deutsches Herzinfarkt-Register, Herzbericht 2007): U.Z., Volker Schaechinger, Anselm Gitt, Michael Boehm.

Greece (HELIOS registry, Hellenic Heart PCI registry): G.A., Georgios Papaioannou.

Hungary (Database of the National Health Insurance Fund, National primary PCI registry): B.M., David Becker.

Israel (ACSIS registry): Alexander Battler, Basil Lewis, Shlomo Behar.

Italy (SICI GISE PCI registry, LOMBARDIMA registry, BLITZ 3 survey, IN-ACS Outcome registry, Italian National Health Service, Veneto region registry, Ministero del Lavoro, Salute e Politiche Sociali, Istituto Superiore di Sanità): S.S., M.T.

Latvia (Latvian registry of ACS): Andrejs Erglis.

Lithuania: Ramunas Navickas.

F.Y.R. Macedonia: M.K.

The Netherlands: Karel T. Koch, Willem J. ter Burg.

Norway: L.A.

Poland (PL-ACS Registry, WG on Cardiovascular Interventions registry): G.O., A.W., Lech Polonski.

Portugal: J.M.

Romania (RO-STEMI registry): Dan Deleanu, Gabriel Tatu-Chitoiu.

Serbia (National ACS registry): M.O., Z.V.

Slovakia (SLOVAKS registry): M.S., Anna Baráková, Peter Hlava, Ján Murín, Gabriel Kamenský, Gabriela Kaliská.

Slovenia (National survey 2007, Ljubljana registry): M.N.

Spain: J.A.B., A.B., J.M.F., Agustin Albarrang, Felipe Hernandez.

Sweden (RIKS-HIA/Swedeheart registry): U.S.

Switzerland (Swiss PCI registry, AMIS Plus registry): P.E., D.R., Stephan Windecker, Eric Eeckhout.

Turkey (TUMAR registry): Omer Kozan, Rasim Enar.

UK (MINAP registry, BCIS registry): M.B., P.L., John Birkhead.


  • see Appendix for the full list of contributors.

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