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Inside Cardiology's PCI Problem

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, August 18, 2011

Even the use of stress testing and imaging is under the spotlight, so that patients don't undergo tests with higher rates of false positives.

"These are the patients who give us opportunities to be better stewards of our healthcare dollar, in terms of doing angioplasty in people who may not necessarily benefit from it," said Brindis. "This is a changing landscape."

Several other factors are at work to measure appropriateness, including recent endorsement of PCI guidelines by the National Quality Forum six years ago. There's active review of standards for cardiovascular disease severity to determine when the narrowing of an artery is significant enough to merit intervention.

Another issue is the increased recognition that PCIs, largely thought of as a benign intervention, are not harm-free. As the authors of the JAMA article wrote, "patients who undergo PCI are exposed to risks of periprocedural complications and longer-term bleeding and stent thrombosis. Moreover, recent trials in stable patients without acute coronary syndromes have shown that PCI, compared with medical therapy, may provide only a modest population average improvement in symptom relief."

The national need to bend the cost curve is of course another reason for the spotlight, and here's where hospitals need to pay close attention.

Angiography and stenting is enormous business, with an estimated 700,000 or so PCIs performed this year at a cost of $12 billion, half of them acute – which were determined at a 99% rate to be necessary.

But if those among the rest that are injudicious are stopped, hospitals may suffer huge financial losses, especially if they weighted their balance sheets with that revenue.

Hospital leaders and interventional departments should realize that the days of the heart mill will soon be over, if they aren't already, and they should examine any operators whose volume may be in question. 

Even though the findings from the NCDR Cath PCI Registry, down to the hospital level, won't be released to the public, presumably peer pressure, as well as increasing accusations against publicly named cardiologists, should be persuasive enough to do the right thing.


Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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1 comments on "Inside Cardiology's PCI Problem"


Will ElLaissi (8/19/2011 at 2:59 PM)
First, I must say that your article is great. It shed insight on the implications of over-stenting and the complications that can arise. Recently, it was reported, I believe in the NEJM, that PCIs could be performed in an out-patient setting due to the competence of invasive cardiologists (meaning that there is now little threat that an artery could burst producing a need for emergency open heart surgery). I work in the industry and I do feel torn by one issue that you raised. You mentioned that some hospitals hang their hat on their cardiology program and the margins that they receive from angioplasties, CABGs, or Valve replacements. We are certainly in this industry to help the patient, but a disconnect appears when we discuss ways to correctly incentivize physicians AND hospitals to cut down on the "inappropriate" PCI cases. It is a hard sell as a consultant or a policy maker to pitch quality when many hospitals suffer for higher quality (Of course we do, but you address the problems that arise). I guess this is the catch in our healthcare system. We are all in healthcare to improve it and to seek options that would improve the way healthcare is delivered to the patient, but practically speaking, we see the downside of doing the right thing. The hope I am sure is that ACOs and bundled payments will help correctly incentivize hospitals and physicians towards higher quality outcomes at lower costs. However, practically speaking, for hospitals that enjoy the lucrative nature of high margin procedures which allow them to stay "in the black" or not deep in the red, can they afford higher quality of care? Will shared savings correctly create the needed incentives? Because as I mentioned, there is no doubt that everyone has picked this industry to create the best care for the patient.