A successful primary percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) program requires a learning process whereby the efficiency of the cardiac catheterization laboratory to deliver prompt intervention can be refined. The purpose of this study was to (1) quantify this learning process in terms of shortening the time to reperfusion, (2) examine the changes in strategy that allowed for this, and (3) determine if expedited reperfusion by primary PTCA improved patient outcomes. A database of all primary PTCA procedures was established in February 1, 1994. Continuous quality assurance analysis was performed, and program modifications introduced as needed. Patients were separated into early (group A = February 1, 1994 through January 31, 1995) and late (group B1 = February 1, 1995 through June 31, 1995, and group B2 = July 1, 1995 through December 31, 1995) cohorts. Time intervals to certain treatment landmarks were compared among groups. In-hospital outcomes were tabulated. Fifty-two consecutive patients were included (group A = 19, group B1 = 17, group B2 = 16). Time intervals shortened significantly (group A vs group B1 vs group B2) with the time from hospital presentation to first balloon inflation decreasing progressively (from 205 to 119 to 97 minutes; p <0.001). Most of this decrease was obtained by shortening the time from hospital presentation to xylocaine administration (158 to 85 to 72 minutes; p <0.005), although the time from xylocaine to first balloon inflation also decreased (from 47 to 33 to 24 minutes; p <0.005). Parallel decreases for in-hospital mortality (26% vs 0%; p = 0.004), adverse events (47% vs 18%; p = 0.05), and length of hospital stay (13.3 +/- 13.7 vs 8.4 +/- 4.4 days; p = NS) were demonstrated for groups A versus B1 and B2. A learning effect following initiation of a primary PTCA program is demonstrated in which reperfusion was more rapidly achieved as the result of procedural changes directed by quality improvement analysis with a concurrent improvement in in-hospital outcomes.