The Nation's Health + life

Hospitals: Go to your corners

There's a heated debate being waged on the Heart Hawk Blog

Dr. Melissa Walton-Shirley authored an editorial entitled It Should Be the Right of All Americans to Have Primary Percutaneous-Based Intervention for Acute Coronary Syndrome .

Heart Hawk's response:

Dr. Walton-Shirley feels the best use of time, talent, and money is to build more cath labs and train more people in how to use them so that IF you have a heart attack, you stand a better chance of being pulled back from the brink of death. Unfortunately, you have to first let people get so sick that they are about to die. My position is to use those same resources to prevent such disasters from happening in the first place. Take your pick. You cannot spend the money twice.

I am no stranger to "direct angioplasty," meaning performing immediate coronary angioplasty (with stenting) for heart attack. Since 1990, I have personally performed hundreds, perhaps over a thousand of these procedures, particularly when I was younger and my practice was procedurally-focused. But, after a few years, I quickly recognized the futility of this approach. Yes, you might have aborted a heart attack ,perhaps even saved a life at the brink of death. But wouldn't it have been better to have prevented the entire episode in the first place?

In my mind, putting a cath lab on every corner, as Dr. Walton-Shirley suggests, is like having a fire truck on every street to prevent a house from burning down. It's an enormously expensive proposition that provides no incentive to prevent fires. Why not spend the money on preventing the fires?

Expanding access to cath lab procedures is putting the fox in the henhouse. Procedures yield money--big money--for hospitals and cardiologists. Guess what happens when you build facilities that exceed the need? Yes--the number of procedures grows, whether or not they were needed.

In my view, Dr. Shirley-Walton's opinions are symptomatic of the profit-driven, procedurally-focused quick-fixes that divert money that would be far better spent on effective dissemination of preventive practices.

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