The Nation's Health + [Heart disease prevention]

Heart disease prevention: Does prevention save money?

Prevention and reversal of heart disease are undoubtedly preferable to the current crash and repair model currently followed by doctors and hospital, the model that has created an enormous medical device industry to support it.

But does it save money? This debate often boils down to a metric of "lives saved per $100,000". Thus, the statin drugs (of course) have been subjected to such analyses and have been shown to be "cost-effective."

But how does a powerful heart disease prevention and reversal program like Track Your Plaque compare to the current crash and repair procedural approach to heart disease? This is a very difficult analysis, one that is subject to enormous variation, depending on the population studied and the prevalence of disease, the local practice habits (e.g., in the northwest Cleveland suburb of Lorain, virtually everybody going to the hospital for any heart problem gets one or several heart catheterizations), and other factors.

There's also the difficulty of what should constitute a prevention program. Is it like that used in the COURAGE Trial of "optimal medical therapy" that included nitroglycerin, aspirin, a beta blocker, and statin drug (which we regard as a laughably silly approach), or one like Track Your Plaque in which we try to correct the causes of heart disease, not just palliate (BandAid) them? Costs vary. The "optimal medical therapy" is very costly due to its reliance on medications to treat symptoms. Our program is somewhat costly because of the reliance on a CT heart scan and lipoprotein analysis (though, in the long perspective, our costs are modest).

We asked this question and came up with a lengthy analysis. Bottom line: Following the Track Your Plaque program saves enormous sums of money. Because of the complexity of the analysis, which is theoretical and not a real-world test, we confined our analysis to men in the 40-59 year old age group. If this group alone were to subscribe to a intensive but rational program of prevention like Track Your Plaque, over $20 billion dollars per year would be saved.

If the analysis were extended to women of all ages and men older than 59, the numbers would balloon to many more tens of billions of dollars. Such a savings wouldn't cure the healthcare system's growing financial crisis, but it sure would be a big help. Sort of like converting to a hydrid car--you don't eliminate the need for gas, but you'll save a lot in fuel costs.

The Track Your Plaque approach makes sense because it is, bar none, the most powerful approach to gaining hold of heart disease risk available. But it also makes sense from a financial standpoint. Now, if we can only convince the hospitals, the $30 million annual salary device manufacturer CEO, and my procedure-crazy colleagues that this way makes more sense.

Watch for our analysis on an upcoming Track Your Plaque Special Report.