The Nation's Health + [Heart scans]

Heart scans: Failure to diagnose

I picked up a hospital publication today. Featured prominently on the cover was a glossy photo of an attorney and his wife, both smiling.

The headline: "Atorney grateful for the lifesaving work of the ______ Hospital."

The story detailed the near-tragic story of how this 59-year old man was exercising at his local gym, only to lose consciousness after stepping off one of the exercise machines. Bystanders--hospital employees, as luck would have it--checked the man's pulse: none. They performed CPR. Ambulance called, blah blah blah.

Severe coronary disease discovered, extensive atherosclerotic plaque in all three coronary arteries, a 12-inch chest incision later and he and his wife are eternally grateful for the fine work done at X hospital. And so they should be for a job well done.

But wait a minute. After the urgent hospital dust settled, did anyone ask the one crucial question: Why wasn't this man's far-advanced heart disease identified? Why did he have to die and be resuscitated before his disease was recognized?

If this man was an indigent, homeless alcoholic . . . well, perhaps it would be no surprise. Health is neglected in this population. But a successful attorney?

Detecting hidden coronary atherosclerotic plaque simply isn't that tough. In Milwaukee, $199 would have diagnosed his disease unequivocally.

Unfortunately, we still have to set off drumrolls and crash cymbals to even begin to get the attention of the practicing physicians around us who continue to fail to diagnose hidden coronary disease. I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear if this man had a $4000 nuclear stress recently that was normal. Why would a nuclear stress test be normal? Easy: Wrong test .

The hidden message: The failure to diagnose paid somebody and some hospital over $100,000. So, why bother detecting disease before the payoff?

The profit motive in all this is all too obvious. The only other explanation is the enormous, repetitive, and systematic stupidity of the conventional approach to heart disease detection. You have the solution, at least for you and the people around you, in a CT heart scan and in the Track Your Plaque program.

Copyright 2007 House, MD