Coronary artery stent surgery has become so safe that many interventional cardiologists might go their whole career without experiencing a complication, according to Sutherland Heart Clinic’s medical director Dr Mark Pitney.

Dr Pitney says with advanced technology, expertise and training, the complication rate from stent surgery is reducing each year. It is now down to 0.5 per cent from five per cent of all surgeries.

A stent is a short, wire-mesh tube that acts like a scaffold to help keep an artery open. The device is commonly used in heart surgery to improve blood flow in a coronary artery that has been narrowed or blocked by plaque.

Recognising the importance of interventional cardiologists being able to respond effectively in those very rare situations when procedures don’t go as planned, Dr Pitney founded an annual professional development event 10 years ago that’s hosted each year by Sutherland Heart Clinic’s sister site, Eastern Heart Clinic. The event is known as Action Day.

This unique one-day forum enables healthcare professionals working in cardiac catheter labs to share their more challenging surgical cases, so that others can learn from them.

Starting from humble beginnings with 30 people 10 years ago, the annual Action Day conference now attracts about 650 catheter lab professionals each year, including interventional cardiologists, anaesthetists, radiographers, cardiac nurses and other healthcare personnel working in catheter labs.

A steering committee selects the most significant complications healthcare professionals are likely to ever see in a catheter lab and invites doctors involved in those cases to deliver a detailed presentation of what occurred during the procedure and how they handled the case.

Organiser Dr Mark Pitney describes the event as like “flight simulator training for pilots”.

Action Day is an opportunity for health professionals to hear about different ‘real life’ medical scenarios to better prepare for any unexpected situations that may arise while conducting heart procedures, ultimately reducing complication rates for people undergoing heart surgery.

“This is a unique and important professional development event because complications are so rare now in cardiac surgery, so to be able to share these rare occurrences with others working in the field is an important learning opportunity,” he says.

Dr Pitney says with stenting now so safe and some cardiologists performing hundreds of cases a year, doctors might see a complication once every five years.

“It’s like simulator training for pilots but we don’t have such a simulator for cath labs so we ask people to share their most challenging cases.

Action Day has now become the largest gathering of catheter lab professionals in the world.

Discuss ‘real life’ medical scenarios

Presentations at Action Day 2022

Action Day 2022 held in Sydney


At this year’s conference, which was held in Sydney on 25 June 2022, a steering committee selected 25 prominent cardiologists from Australia and New Zealand to present their most challenging surgical cases ever.”

A panel then discusses the case and questions are taken from the audience so the room can learn how they would handle the situation differently.

“This is an unbelievably important meeting for catheter lab professionals that only happens in Australia,” Dr Pitney says.

He says a rewarding aspect of organising such an important event are the phone calls organisers got afterwards.

“We get a couple of phone calls a year from surgeons saying they had this unexpected outcome or development, but they’d previously seen it at Action Day so they were able to navigate it to a safe conclusion,” he said.

He credits the activities of events like Action Day as playing a role in reducing the complication rate associated with stent surgery.

“We’re proud at Sutherland Heart Clinic to be supporting the activities underway to foster ongoing learning and professional development across the sector, continuing to improve best practice and clinical outcomes for patients.”

You can read more about Action Day here or stay in touch for updates on Action Day 2023 here.