"Interestingly, these improvements happened in a period when there were no real 'miracle' clinical advancements," Dr. Harlan Krumholz -- lead author of what the AMA calls the "most comprehensive report card to-date" on America's fight for improved heart health -- said in a press release.
"Rather, we saw consistent improvements in the use of evidence-based treatments and medications and an increase in quality improvement initiatives using registries and other data to track performance and support improvement efforts -- as well as a strong emphasis on heart-healthy lifestyles and behaviors," Krumholz added.
The report was compiled using health data collected from some 34 million Medicare Fee-For-Service recipients between 1999 and 2011; researchers also analyzed hospital reports and accounted for factors like age, sex, race, location and complicating health factors.
The data suggests hospitals are getting better at screening for, identifying and treating heart disease, and that patients are doing more to prevent heart problems.
"Huge strides in lifestyle, quality of care and prevention strategies for cardiovascular health have seemed to have a ripple effect on saving lives," said Krumholz.
Researchers suggest the rise in proper and effective use of statins (to treat high blood pressure), as well as declining smoking rates, can also be credited for the improvements.
"There is still more work to do as heart disease and stroke combined remain the leading cause of death and disability, but this study documents astonishing progress and national achievement," Krumholz said.