What the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sees as a safety precaution could be causing American doctors to lag behind their international counterparts when it comes to the use of new technologies in treating heart disease.

U.S. approval requirements for cardiac devices are more stringent and take longer than in Europe, leaving many U.S. doctors to feel that their patients are being denied access to beneficial and efficient technologies. Medical devices in Europe tend to get approved four years ahead of the U.S.

"There is frustration among the U.S. investigators and U.S. care providers around delayed access to certain interventions that appear to be a winner," said Dr. Patrick O'Gara, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cardiac disease kills more people each year than any other cause of death. In the United States, cardiovascular disease takes the lives of more than 2,130 Americans a day - that's an average of one death every 40 seconds. The innovative technologies, which have yet to be approved, could help save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

The problem seems to be that the FDA tests and approves new cardiac devices, requiring concrete proof of efficacy and safety prior to their release into the market. The agency tests safety through randomized clinical trials that could take years to complete. According to Reuters, one top researcher called the U.S. a "third world country" when it comes to the availability of new medical devices.

So what will the FDA do about it?

Andrew Farb, medical officer in the FDA's division of cardiovascular device evaluation, said that the agency is aware of doctors' frustrations with the regulatory requirements and is brainstorming steps to both keep patients safe and speed up the process. In fact, the FDA is hoping to start the approval process much earlier in device development, so that these technologies can be released with less of a delay.

"When you're starting a new way of thinking, getting this really ramped up is a challenge, but we're hopeful," said Farb.

In the meantime, European devices will continue to be released ahead of those in the U.S., forcing some American doctors to even recommend that their patients get treated overseas.