The Nation's Health + [Heart scans]

Heart scans: Heart Scan debate

A few years back when the book form of Track Your Plaque was first released, I did a bunch of radio and interviews to raise awareness of the book and of CT heart scanning in general.

I'd forgotten about this interview I did for National Public Radio (NPR), in which I debate Dr. Graboys from Harvard. Though I've had this debate countless other times, usually on a less formal basis, I didn't know what to expect at the start of the interview. After all, I knew of Dr. Graboys' reputation as a respected Harvard cardiologist. So I was expecting that at least he would argue that, being relatively new at the time, CT heart scanning was largely unproven in large clinical trials. (This was not entirely true then, however, as at least 1000 trials had already been performed, many of them involving thousands of participants. However, despite that much validation, the concept of CT heart scanning had still not entered the consciousness of most practicing physicians. After all, heart scanning is not part of the "crash and repair" equation that most have invested their career in.)

Heart Hawk re-discovered the debate, still on the NPR website. So here it is. When I re-listened to the debate, I was surprised at how little Dr. Graboys had to offer. He argues that examining left ventricular function should suffice as an important measure of mortality. In other words, if you have experienced a drop in the strength of heart muscle, that can be used to stratify your risk of death.

I tried to convey to the audience (NOT convince Dr. Graboys to believe, as most of my colleagues are stubbornly adherent to their way of thinking until someone tosses a big carrot in front of them) that CT heart scanning provides a means to detect coronary atherosclerosis years, even decades, before questions of mortality (death) became necessary. Heart scanning identifies disease in its early stages so that a program of prevention can be followed and tracked.

Dr. Graboys expressed concern that heart scanning devices could be mis-used to increase hospital procedures. He's absolutely right here. By that same line of thinking, say your crooked auto mechanic on the corner scams most of his customers by doing unnecessary car repairs. Does this mean that we should ban all auto mechanics from repairing cars? I hope not. I believe it does mean that we should all be educated on distinguishing scams from an honest businessman.

Same with heart scans. The key is not to ban heart scanning. We should try to educate the public and physicians to prevent these sorts of scams and decisions based on ignorance from occurring.

Nonetheless, make your own judgments.

CLICK HERE to listen (this is a .ram file so you will need the free RealPlayer to play)