The Nation's Health + [Heart disease reversal]

Are cardiologists the enemy?

I'm sitting at dinner with two colleagues. One is a cardiology colleague, another an internist who, in addition to practicing general internal medicine, also takes heart disease prevention very seriously. He has, in fact, participated in the Track Your Plaque program and dropped his heart scan score substantially.

"Why don't we see you in the cath lab much?" my cardiology colleague asked me. He was puzzled, since he knew my background in cath lab work from years before, spending day and night doing procedure after procedure. He spends virtually all his days there.

"Well, my patients simply don't have events any more. Heart attacks and angina among people in my program are just about non-existent. They don't have symptoms and they don't have to go to the hospital. I can't remember the last time that I was woken up in the middle of the night for an urgent procedure for one of my patients."

The internist across the table smiled and expressed his agreement. "That's the same thing I'm seeing: No heart attacks, very few if any referrals to cardiologists for procedures. I remember when it was a several times a week thing. Now, almost never . "

Looking at my cardiology colleague, I saw the usual cardiologist reaction: Eyes searching left and right and behind us for something more interesting. Certainly, talking about a virtual cure for coronary heart disease was just too damn dull.

Such is the attitude of 98% of my colleagues: If it doesn't generate a revenue-producing procedure, why bother? Prevention is for general practitioners, the line of thinking goes. "And anyway, I'm too busy doing procedures! I don't ahve time to talk about prevention and health!" Of course, the poor general practitioner is already overloaded with caring for arthritis, flu, diabetes and all the new drugs for diabetes, headaches, vaccinations, diarrhea, and . . .oh, yes, heart disease prevention.

Are cardiologists the enemy? No, of course they are are not. But they often act like they are. Talking to cardiologists is like going to the car dealer with your checkbook out, pen in hand. The salesman gets to write the check himself and you just sign it. Talk to a cardiologist and more often than not you will end up with a heart procedure--whether or not you need it.

Unfortunately--tragically--they often forget what they are supposed to be doing: Taking care of a disease by preventing it. Putting in a defibrillator is not preventing a disease. Putting in three stents, laser angioplasty, and thrombectomy are not ways of preventing a disease.

I'm thankful for my internist friend who sees the light. Coronary heart disease is a an easily measurable, quantifiable, preventable, and REVERSIBLE process for many, if not most, people when provided the right tools. But don't ask your neighborhood cardiologists to give you those tools.