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It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the picture of the American healthcare environment is a prime example. To many Americans, our healthcare system is the most technologically advanced in the world, capable of near-miraculous achievements and perpetual progress. To others, it is a hodgepodge of frustrating bureaucratic systems that lack accountability, impede access to necessary care, and even threaten patient safety.

There can be little debate, however, over the fact that heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases remain the leading health threat to our people. This is a concern of almost every family in every corner of our nation, yet the enemy is not easy to visualize or explain. As a lone cardiologist, you cannot solve all the problems with our healthcare environment, but you do have multiple opportunities to make a difference.

Staying informed is an important first step. In this issue of Business Briefing: US Cardiology, talented scientists from across the country address intriguing and important issues across the spectrum of cardiology—prevention, diagnostic imaging, drug therapies, and medical and surgical interventions.

The American Heart Association, too, steps forward in this issue because the association is a vital force in both the public and private sectors. The association is in a unique position. It develops, processes, and translates the best available science into practical application for healthcare systems and providers and then steers the use of those practical applications into the healthcare marketplace where they ultimately affect patient care.

As physicians and scientists, many of us probably would prefer simply to devote our time to research and patient care.That would be a big mistake.We do not exist in a vacuum, nor are we isolated from the rest of society. How can we, for example, expect to change individual patient behavior or attitudes if societal and cultural pressures about food and lifestyle are pushing people in the opposite direction?

If the American Heart Association did not already exist, we would be compelled to form an organization like it, because it bridges the gaps separating policy-makers, scientists, front-line providers, and the lay public. Perhaps just as importantly, the association stands as an advocate for high standards and patient-centered care. Similarly, the organization alerts its constituencies about cost-driven policies and practices that undermine optimal patient care.

Often, such proposals arrive on the scene with good intentions or appealing labels, but closer examination reveals potentially adverse consequences to patients that far outweigh the alleged benefits. The American Heart Association is privileged to work with volunteers across the nation that understand the potential influence the organization wields, based on their involvement at the grassroots and national levels. It is mutually beneficial. Because of the involvement of cardiologists, the American Heart Association is stronger and more influential. Because it is stronger and more influential, cardiologists are better able to advance the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular diseases to ultimately better serve their patients.