The Nation's Health + [Heart disease prevention]

Heart disease prevention: Boy, was I wrong!

Around 10 years ago, I was talking to a balloon and stent manufacturer's representative, who was raving about some new device that was due for release to the market. Back then, the sky seemed the limit to cardiac device manufacturers, who were falling over themselves scrambling to design and market the next new device.

The angioplasty market then had ballooned (no pun intended) from nothing to a multi-billion dollar industry. Stents were just getting underway but clearly had potential for being at least as large.

But this was a time when preventive therapies were also beginning to get quite powerful. We had just gotten started doing CT heart scans and were excited about the possibilities, statin drugs were gaining evidence through clinical trials, and the power of many nutritional supplements was finally achieving validation. We were even learning the error of our prior low-fat ways.

So I broadly pronounced to the enthusiastic product representative, "In 10 years, balloons, angioplasty, and stents will occupy this little corner of cardiac care because prevention will have become so powerful. We won't talk about heart procedures. We'll talk about coronary plaque regression!"

I even advised the representative that he should consider a career change in anticipation of the coming wave of preventive strategies.

Was I ever wrong. Despite the power of heart disease prevention--which is indeed true--cardiac device and procedure technology has boomed, both in popularity as well as in revenue success. Device manufacturing and sales are hugely successful. Implanting devices into people is a hugely profitable enterprise.

Since my ill-timed comments to the salesman, Boston Scientific, a major manufacturer of stents and other cardiac devices, reported revenues of $6.2 billiondollars in 2005, a 12% increase over the prior year. Medtronic reported 2005 revenues of $11.3 billion, growing at 15% per year. Clearly, cardiac procedures are still quite popular--and profitable.

My timing was off, but not for long. The huge crest of change in preventive therapies is upon us. That's the premise behind the Track Your Plaque concept: heart disease prevention can't be found in a hospital, is not supported by cardiac device manufacturers, and is not being advocated by most cardiologists or primary care physicians. Yet the tools are getting better and better every day.

Those of you who succeed in halting or reducing your heart scan score are extremely unlikely to add to Boston Scientific's or Medtronic's revenues. Help me spread the word.