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Posts Tagged ‘cardiologists’

Thanks again to ‘Lapeyre’, who as it turns out is Dr. Didier Lapeyre, a renowned, French cardiothoracic surgeon credited with the development of the first mechanical valves.

Dr. Didier Lapeyre was gracious enough to send some additional literature to add to our ongoing discussions regarding severe aortic stenosis and TAVI/ TAVR therapies.  He also commented that the best way to avoid these ‘high risk situations’ is by earlier intervention with conventional surgery – something we discussed before in the article entitled, “More patients need surgery.”

He also points out that ‘elderly’ patients actually do quite well with aortic valve replacement and offers a recently published meta-analysis of 48 studies on patients aged 80 or older.

As readers know, on June 13, 2012 – the FDA ruled in favor of expanding the eligibility criteria for this therapy.  Previously, this treatment modality, due to its experimental nature and high rate of complications including stroke and serious bleeding, has been limited in the United States to patients deemed ineligible for aortic valve replacement surgery.

Now on the heels of the Partner A trial, in which researchers reported favorable results for patients receiving the Sapien device, the FDA has voted to approve expanding criteria to include patients deemed to be high risk candidates for surgery.  As we have discussed on previous occasions, this opens the door to the potential for widespread abuse, misapplication of this therapy and potential patient harm.

In the accompanying 114 page article, “Transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI): a health technology assessment update,” Belgian researchers (Mattias, Van Brabandt, Van de Sande & Deviese, 2011) looking at transcatheter valve procedures have found exactly that in their examination of the use of TAVI worldwide.

Most notably, is the evidence of widespread abuse in Germany (page 49 of report), which has become well-known for their early adoption of this technology, and now uses TAVI for an estimated 25 – 40% of valve procedures*.  Closer examination of the practices in this country show poor data reporting with incomplete information in the national registry as well as a reported mortality rate of 7.7%, which is more than double that of conventional surgery.  Unsurprisingly, in Germany, TAVI is reimbursed at double the amount compared to conventional surgery**, providing sufficient incentive for hospitals and cardiologists to use TAVI even in low risk patients. (and yes, german cardiologists are often citing “patient refused surgery” as their reason, particularly when using TAVI on younger, healthy, low risk patients.)

In their examination of the data itself, Mattias et al. (2011) found significant researcher bias within the study design and interpretation of results.  More alarmingly, Mattias found that one of the principle researchers in the Partner A study, Dr. Martin Leon had major financial incentives for reporting successful results.  He had recently received a 6.9 million dollar payment from Edward Lifesciences, the creators of the Sapien valve for purchase of his own transcatheter valve company.   He also received 1.5 million dollar bonus if the Partner A trial reached specific milestones.  This fact alone, in my mind, calls into question the integrity of the entire study.

[Please note that this is just a tiny summary of the exhaustive report.]

Thank you, Dr. Lapeyre for offering your expertise for the benefit of our readers!

* Estimates on the implantation of TAVI in Germany vary widely due to a lack of consistent reporting.

** At the time of the report, TAVI was reimbursed at 36,000 euros (45,500 dollars) versus 17,500 euros (22,000 dollars) for aortic valve replacement.

For more posts on TAVI and aortic stenosis, see our TAVI archive.

References

Mattias, N., Van Brabandt, H., Van de Sande, S. & Deviese, S. (2011).  Transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI): a health technology assessment .  Belgian Health Care Knowledge Centre.

Vasques, F., Messori, A., Lucenteforte, E. & Biancari, F. (2012).  Immediate and late outcome of patients aged 80 years and older undergoing isolated aortic valve replacement: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 48 studies.  Am Heart J 2012; 163: 477-85.

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Note:  I owe Dr. Vasquez a much more detailed article – which I am currently writing – but after our intellectually stimulating talk the other day, my mind headed off in it’s own direction..

Had a great sit down lunch and a fascinating talk with Dr. Vasquez.  As per usual – our discussion was lively, (a bit more lively than usual) which really got my gears turning.  Dr. Vasquez is a talented surgeon – but he could be even better with just a little ‘help’.  No – I am not trying to sell him a nurse practitioner – instead I am trying to sell Mexicali, and a comprehensive cardiac surgery program to the communities on both sides of the border..  Mexicali really could be the ‘land of opportunity’ for medical care – if motivated people and corporations got involved.

During lunch, Dr. Vasquez was explaining that there is no real ‘heart hospital’ or cardiac surgery program, per se in Mexicali – he just operates where ever his patients prefer.  In the past that has included Mexicali General, Issstecali (the public hospitals) as well as the tiny but more upscale private facilities such as Hospital Alamater, and Hospital de la Familia..

Not such a big deal if you are a plastic surgeon doing a nip/tuck here and there, or some outpatient procedures – okay even for general surgeons – hernia repairs and such – but less than ideal for a cardiac surgeon – who is less of a ‘lone wolf’ due to the nature and scale of cardiac surgery procedures..

Cardiac surgery differs from other specialties in its reliance on a cohesive, well-trained and experienced group – not one surgeon – but a whole team of people to look out for the patients; Before, During & After surgery..  That team approach [which includes perfusionists, cardiac anesthesiologists (more specialized than regular anesthesia), operating room personnel, cardiology interventionalists and specialty training cardiac surgery intensive care nurses]  is not easily transported from facility to facility.

just a couple members of the cardiac surgery team

That’s just the people involved; it doesn’t even touch on all the specialty equipment; such as the bypass pump itself, echocardiogram equipment, Impella/ IABP (intra-aortic balloon pump), ECMO or other equipment for the critically ill – or even just the infrastructure needed to support a heart team – like a pharmacy division that knows that ‘right now’ in the cardiac OR means five minutes ago, or a blood bank with an adequate stock of platelets, FFP and a wide range of other blood products..

We haven’t even gotten into such things such as a hydrid operating rooms and 24/7 caths labs – all the things you need for urgent/ emergent cases, endovascular interventions – things a city the size of Mexicali should really have..

But all of those things take money – and commitment, and I’m just not sure that the city of Mexicali is ready to commit to supporting Dr. Vasquez (and the 20 – something cases he’s done this year..) It also takes vision..

This is where a company/ corporation could come in and really change things – not just for Dr. Vasquez – and Mexicali – but for California..

It came to me again while I was in the operating room with Dr. Vasquez – watching him do what he does best – which is sometimes when I do what I do best.. (I have some of my best ideas in the operating room – where I tend to be a bit quieter.. More thinking, less talking)..

Dr. Vasquez, doing what he does best..

As I am watching Dr. Vasquez – I starting thinking about all the different cardiac surgery programs I’ve been to: visited, worked in – trained in.. About half of these programs were small – several were tiny, single surgeon programs a lot like his.. (You only need one great surgeon.. It’s all the other niceties that make or break a program..)

All of the American programs had the advantages of all the equipment / specialty trained staff that money could buy***

[I know what you are thinking – “well – but isn’t it all of these ‘niceties’ that make everything cost so darn much?”  No – actually it’s not – which is how the Cardioinfantils, and Santa Fe de Bogotas can still make a profit offering world-class services at Colombian prices…]

The cost of American programs are inflated due to the cost of defensive medicine practices (and lawyers), and the costs of medications/ equipment in the United States****

the possibilities are endless – when I spend quality time in the operating room (thinking!)

Well – there is plenty of money in Calexico, California** and not a hospital in sight – just a one room ‘urgent care center’.  The closest facility is in El Centro, California – and while it boasts a daVinci robot, and a (part-time?) heart surgeon (based out of La Mesa, California – 100 + miles away)– patients usually end up being transferred to San Diego for surgery.

Of course, in addition to all of the distance – there is also all of the expense..  So what’s a hard-working, blue-collar guy from Calexico with severe CAD going to do?  It seems the easiest and most logical thing – would be to walk/ drive/ head across the street to Mexicali.. (If only Kaiser Permanente or Blue Cross California would step up and spearhead this project – we could have the best of both worlds – for residents of both cities.. 

 A fully staffed, well-funded, well-designed, cohesive heart program in ONE medium- sized Mexicali facility – without the exorbitant costs of an American program (from defensive medicine practices, and outlandish American salaries.)  Not only that – but as a side benefit, there are NO drug shortages here..

How many ‘cross-border’ cases would it take to bring a profit to the investors?  I don’t know – but I’m sure once word got out – people would come from all over Southern California and Arizona – as well as Mexicali, other parts of Baja, and even places in Sonora like San Luis – which is closer to Mexicali than Hermasillo..  Then Dr. Vasquez could continue to do what he does so well – operate – but on a larger scale, without worrying about resources, or having to bring a suitcase full of equipment to the OR.

The Mexican – American International Cardiac Health Initiative?

But then – this article isn’t really about the ‘Mexican- American cross-border cardiac health initiative’

It is about a young, kind cardiac surgeon – with a vision of his own.

That vision brought Dr. Vasquez from his home in Guadalajara (the second largest city in Mexico) to one of my favorite places, Mexicali after graduating from the Universidad Autonomica in Guadalajara, and completing much of his training in Mexico (D.F.).  After finishing his training – Dr. Vasquez was more than ready to take on the world – and Mexicali as it’s first full-time cardiac surgeon.

Mexicali’s finest: Dr. Vasquez, (cardiac surgeon) Dr. Campa(anesthesia) and Dr. Ochoa (thoracic surgeon

Since arriving here almost two years ago – that’s exactly what he’s done.. Little by little, and case by case – he has begun building his practice; doing a wide range of cardiovascular procedures including coronary bypass surgery (CABG), valve replacement procedures, repair of the great vessels (aneurysm/ dissections), congenital repairs, and pulmonary thrombolectomies..

Dr. Vasquez, Mexicali’s cardiac surgeon

Dr. Cuauhtemoc Vasquez Jimenez, MD

Cardiac Surgeon

Calle B No. 248 entre Obregon y Reforma

Col. Centro, Mexicali, B. C.

Email: drcvasquez@hotmail.com

Tele: (686) 553 – 4714 (appointments)

Notes:

*The Imperial Valley paper reports that Calexico makes 3 million dollars a day off of Mexicali residents who cross the border to shop.

***In all the programs I visited  – there are a couple of things that we (in the United States do well..  Heart surgery is one of those things..)

**** Yes – they charge us more in Calexico for the same exact equipment made in India and sold everywhere else in the world..

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As readers know, I recently gave a CME presentation on The Syntax Trial   and discussed the new Revascularization guidelines that were released last month.  I’ve posted the slides for anyone who wants to use them.  (It would be nice if you mentioned where you got them – but feel free to use them.)

Now – new criticisms of these revised guidelines are already emerging.  But before tackling these new criticisms, we should review the old controversies surrounding the previous guidelines.

In a interesting article (by one of my favorite summarists) Reed Miller over at The Heart.org reviews the issues behind the old (2009) guidelines..  It’s a good article that talks about many of the issues behind the 2012 revisions. I’ve re-posted the article below.

PCI appropriateness criteria draw criticism

(originally posted February 8th, 2012 at the Heart.org)

Kansas City, MO – The interminable controversy about appropriate use and overuse of PCI is being stirred up again [1].

Dr Steven P Marso (St Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute, Kansas City, MO) and five other cardiologists have published a paper online February 8, 2012 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Cardiovascular Interventions criticizing both the 2009 coronary revascularization appropriate-use criteria (AUC) and how those criteria have been applied to the study of contemporary practice patterns.

As reported by heartwire, the AUC were created by a technical committee representing six professional societies. Last summer, Marso’s colleague in Kansas City, Dr Paul Chan (St Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute), led a study of PCI cases in the National Cardiovascular Data Registry (NCDR) that showed that only 50.4% of nonacute cases in the registry during the yearlong study period would be classified as appropriate under the AUC and that 11.6% of nonacute cases were classified as inappropriate.

“We are duty bound to evaluate appropriate use of PCI and other medical procedures,” Marso told heartwire. “The problem is that we are no closer to being able to identify overuse based upon these appropriate-use criteria than before they were created. The reason is that there are too many assumptions and too much variability that go into that 11.6% inappropriate rate.”

For example, Marso et al argue that the AUC put too much emphasis on stress testing without precise definitions to guide the interpretation of those tests. “The vast majority of AUC scenarios require knowledge of preprocedural stress-test findings . . . [but] the NCDR does not require interpreting physicians to determine this risk. Therefore, this data-collection burden falls onto the data abstractors, who are required to assign a risk category based on vague guidelines,” they say. “Essentially, they are required to interpret the interpretation.”

Chan told heartwire that the appropriateness criteria were never intended to be perfect, but they are the best effort to sort out which procedures are supported by evidence and which are not. They will evolve over several iterations, including the recent update, which provides more detail on patients with unstable angina. However, Chan does not expect any major changes from the 2009 version to be made soon.

Chan also pointed out that the purpose of the AUCs is to explain the existing evidence base, not pass judgment on each procedure, so nobody should interpret “inappropriate” in the AUCs to mean “fraudulent.”

“Ultimately, my main concern is that we don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. Our profession of cardiology has taken an amazing leadership role in defining quality and appropriateness of care—in a way that no subspecialty has done to date. In so doing, we have moved the quality yardstick forward,” Chan said. “[But] we need to be humble as physicians to recognize that sometimes we may actually be doing procedures that have little evidence to support their use . . . and that not only are we not providing benefit but perhaps subjecting patients to unnecessary procedure risks and costs.”

Who decides which side is “right” and which side is “wrong?”

Marso et al are especially concerned with the AUC’s treatment of patients with one- or two-vessel disease, no proximal left anterior descending artery involvement or prior coronary artery bypass graft, class I or II symptoms, low-risk noninvasive findings, and on no or minimal medications. The AUC state that PCI in this scenario, labeled scenario 12b, is “inappropriate.” This scenario accounted for nearly 40% of the inappropriate nonacute procedures categorized by Chan et al as inappropriate, making it the most common type of procedure in this category.

Prior to the release of the 2009 AUCs, Chan et al surveyed 85 cardiologists—including 44 interventionalists and 41 noninterventional cardiologists—on the appropriateness of 68 coronary revascularization indications also addressed by the AUCs. That group classified scenario 12b as “uncertain.” Instead of assuming that the cardiologists in the survey need to be educated about the appropriateness of this procedure, Marso et al suggest it’s the technical panel that could learn something from the cardiologists in the survey. “These are 80 clinical cardiologists who answered questions about what they thought was appropriate, driven by medical decision-making, and they concluded that the technical panel just plain got it wrong,” Marso told heartwire.

In response to this specific point, Chan told heartwire, “The decision of the AUC technical panel to make this scenario inappropriate was based on the lack of available clinical evidence to support PCI in patients who have only mild to moderate symptoms with intermediate stress tests without a trial of medical therapy. This is, indeed, consistent with the COURAGE trial, wherein medical therapy was found to be comparable to PCI for patients with even greater symptoms and more severe ischemia.

“Although the COURAGE quality-of-life substudy did find that patients who underwent PCI, compared with medical therapy, had modestly improved angina relief during the first year, this benefit was likely concentrated in those COURAGE patients who had far greater symptoms than [Canadian Cardiovascular Society (CCS)] class I or II—eg, CCS class II or IV,” Chan said. “Dr Marso’s assertion that this indication should be uncertain, however, is not supported by any evidence to date.”

Who decides who gets to decide?

Marso et al also object to the composition of the technical panel, which included only four interventionalists out of 16 total members. The panel was put together according to the so-called Rand method to prevent conflicts of interest. Marso objects to the technical panel’s insinuation that “interventional cardiologists are inherently biased due a financial bias or an intellectual bias, that their ideas are preconceived, and that they are unwilling to evaluate data in an objective manner.” He points out that the FDA, which certainly has a vested interest in rooting out both financial and intellectual bias from its advisory panels, does not limit whole categories of experts from serving on these panels. Instead, it evaluates the background and potential conflicts of interest of each individual.

Dr John Spertus, the director of outcomes research at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute and senior author of the AUC writing group, does not agree that the AUC technical committee needs more interventionalists. “The benefits of revascularization should be very transparent. Clinicians caring for patients should all be on the same page with the same perspectives of revascularization of patients. That isn’t information that is uniquely known to the interventional community,” he said. “While they have extensive expertise and knowledge around the technical aspects of doing the procedure, whether it should be done or not is something that all clinicians caring for patients with coronary disease should know, appreciate, and be able to communicate to their patients.”

The missing voice: The patient

In an accompanying editorial [2], Dr James Blankenship (Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, PA) argues that the AUC “will never fully define the best treatment decision for a particular patient . . . because occasionally, patients will have exceptional circumstances that dictate treatment different from that recommended by AUC and guidelines; and different patients experience a given level of symptoms differently.

“Determinations of appropriateness by the AUC based on angina class fail to take patients’ perceptions and preferences into account. This is a fundamental flaw, because patients’ perceptions and preferences are a critical component of decision making,” Blankenship argues. However, he acknowledges that “factoring in patient preferences raises a host of new problems. Patients’ preferences are routinely based on incorrect perceptions and nonobjective factors; [they] routinely overestimate the benefits of PCI, underestimate its risks, and underestimate the efficacy of medical therapy [and] tend to discount the sometimes-superior benefits of one treatment (eg, CABG for very complex triple-vessel disease), because those benefits accrue later, and instead prefer the more immediate but lesser benefits of another treatment (eg, PCI) because they accrue sooner (temporal discounting).”

More data on the way

Chan said that a prospective study of 7000 to 8000 patients measuring the change in quality of life from baseline to six months among patients who have undergone PCI will soon be complete. Results of this study, intended to validate the ratings of the AUC, will probably be available this summer, he said.

“We anticipate that we will find that patients with inappropriate AUC ratings will have little to no improvement in quality of life at six months, appropriate AUC ratings will have substantial improvements in quality of life, and uncertain AUC ratings will have modest improvements in quality of life,” Chan said. “Once we have these results, we will be able to say with confidence whether indications such as 12b should be kept as inappropriate or changed to uncertain.”

Spertus said that the AUC will be updated when there are methodological or technical deficiencies in the current approach or if important new evidence on PCI is published. One of the goals of the AUC is to identify gaps in the scientific knowledge that need further study.

Marso reports no personal conflicts of interest during the previous 24 months.

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New allegations of gross medicare fraud from overstenting and unnecessary interventional procedures has been filed against surgeons in Pennsylvania, including the prestigious UPMC medical center.  This story, (based on cases dating back to 2001 and onwards), comes just as the dust in settling from an outbreak of unnecessary stent cases in neighboring Maryland.

What is overstenting?

Article by Michael R’iordan from the Heart.com re-posted below:

Cardiologists accused of defrauding Medicare by performing unnecessary cardiac procedures

Erie, PA – A new whistle-blower lawsuit filed in US District Court in Erie, PA claims that five cardiologists from two medical practices defrauded Medicare by performing unnecessary cardiac and vascular surgeries and interventional procedures between 2001 and 2005.

The suit, filed under the False Claims Act (FCA) and first reported January 22, 2012 in the Erie Times-News [1], states that as a result of the fraud, Medicare overpaid for these procedures, which wasted substantial public money, and patients were placed at significant and unnecessary risk of harm.

According to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by heartwire, the physicians named are Drs Richard Petrella, Robert Ferraro, Charles Furr, Timothy Trageser, and Donald Zone. The two medical practices named in the lawsuit are Medicor Associates Inc—and its affiliate Flagship Cardiac, Vascular, and Thoracic Surgery (CVTS)—and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Hamot (formerly known as Hamot Medical Center). The Medicor practice is the full-service cardiology center affiliated with UPMC Hamot.

The lawsuit states that from June 2001 and earlier, the defendants “knowingly, systematically, routinely, and repeatedly submitted false claims to and received reimbursements from Medicare and other federal healthcare programs for medically unnecessary cardiac catheterizations and cardiac and vascular surgical procedures, including but not limited to . . . PCI.”

As result of the false claims, the physicians received money to “which they were not entitled.”

Paid directorships and kickbacks

Dr Tullio Emanuele, who worked at Medicor and Hamot Medical Center from 2001 to 2005, filed the suit and claims that Medicor engaged in illegal “kickbacks” with Hamot Medical Center and referred cardiac patients to the hospital. In the lawsuit, it is alleged that Hamot signed contracts with Medicor and Flagship CVTS, valued at $75 000 per physician and as high as $525 000 per year, and the doctors would refer patients in need of medical procedures to Hamot Medical Center.

“Specifically, Hamot identified physicians who referred a high volume of patients and/or had potential to refer a high volume of patients for special treatment and offered remuneration to them in the guise of sham contracts for medical directorships or other similar personal service arrangements,” according to the lawsuit.

The claim states the physicians and the participating hospitals violated the federal Anti-Kickback Statute and the federal Stark Act, which says that a hospital is not allowed to submit a claim for reimbursement from Medicare if the procedure has been referred by a physician with improper financial ties to the hospital.

The suit also claims that Emanuele began to grow suspicious in 2004 when he noticed higher rates of intervention among certain physicians within the group. Between 2004 and 2005, 4408 catheterizations were performed, and Petrella, Trageser, and Ferraro had a “rate of surgical intervention following catheterization of double the junior members of the group.”

Emanuele, according to the lawsuit, believes that many of the procedures were performed unnecessarily. For example, Trageser is accused of performing a cardiac catheterization in a patient with chest pain, despite the symptomology being inconsistent with angina. Ferraro is accused of implanting a stent in an artery with moderate stenosis, even though Emanuele previously recommended medical therapy. Zone performed a cardiac catheterization and overstated the severity of stenosis, sending the patient on to CABG surgery, where he/she later died.

UPMC Hamot and the named physicians received copies of the lawsuit last week, according to the Erie Times-News, and have 20 days to respond. If they are found guilty, UPMC Hamot and the Medicor physicians would be required to reimburse Medicare at triple the cost of the original procedure. Emanuele, as the whistle-blower in the case, would be entitled to 30% of the reimbursed money.

More on similar stories here at Cartagena Surgery:

The Ethics of the Syntax Trial

Stent Scandal series:

Cardiology takes another hit

Mark Midei – or the man who started it all..

This is just a sample of the articles available here at Cartagena Surgery.. For more on this topic, look under the cardiology tab..

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Update: 12 July 2011 :  Another kind of inappropriate stenting makes this news.  In the stories below, interventionalists are placing stents in patients after a heart attack (but days to weeks after – when the artery has already closed – tissue has died).  In these cases, stents are not advised because it’s too late to salvage any heart muscle, making stents in the culprit artery useless.  (However, some interventionalists may still be placing stents inappropriately in these cases not due to fraud but because they have failed to keep up with the most recent guidelines and recommendations for treatment, which is only mildly comforting.)

Guidelines don’t curb unnecessary treatment

Doctors overusing stents  – article quote

“Hochman’s findings apply to about 100,000 Americans a year, suggesting that
about 50,000 people are having the $20,000 procedure done unnecessarily every
year.”  [if you remember from a previous post – a prominent interventional cardiologist considered 50,000 “a rare event”.]  It’s also a billion dollars worth of unnecessary procedures..

From 13 June 2011

More cases of overstenting make the news – again.. This time it’s a cardiologist and a radiologist in Tennessee.  Both are accused of ordering unnecessary tests, including angiography (cardiac caths) and performing unnecessary stenting in a scheme to defraud insurance.. The radiologist received kick backs for his patient referrals..

Article by Reed Miller  (June 10, 2011) over at Heartwire.com re-posted here.

Unnecessary stenting cases grabs government attention in Tennessee

Jackson, TN – The US Department of Justice is looking into charges of fraudulent billing leveled by a Tennessee cardiologist against another cardiologist and two hospitals.

Dr Wood Deming (Regional Cardiology Consultants, Jackson, TN) is accusing Dr Elie Hage Korban (Heart and Vascular Center of West Tennessee, Jackson) of “blatant overutilization of cardiac medical services, including, but not limited to, cardiac sonography, scintigraphic stress imaging, angiography, angioplasty, and stenting” in order to defraud government insurance programs, according to documents filed with the US District Court for Western Tennessee. Deming also alleges that the executives of Jackson-Madison County General Hospital and the Regional Hospital of Jackson and radiologist Dr Joel Perchik (Advanced Radiology, Jackson, TN) condoned or assisted in Korban’s fraud in addition to engaging in a bilateral kickback and self-referral scheme [1].

Deming is seeking to collect a portion of whatever fines the government collects from the defendants in this case, as provided for by the “whistleblower” provisions in federal antikickback and false-claims laws.

According to Deming’s complaint, from 2003 onward the hospitals’ executives allowed Korban to routinely order numerous unnecessary diagnostic studies at the hospitals, including transthoracic echocardiography, scintigraphic stress imaging, and transesophageal echocardiography, and then ordering that the patients be transported by ambulance to one of the hospitals for unnecessary catheterization, coronary angiography, and other coronary and peripheral intervention procedures. The complaint alleges that many of these patients underwent coronary angiography after a negative stress test on the premise that they were still having chest pain, but the records were fraudulently dictated to reflect symptoms that were not present. In many cases, Korban subsequently performed unnecessary interventional procedures including stenting, and patients were then admitted to one of the hospitals for recuperation, Deming alleges.

Deming also alleges that Perchik and the hospitals’ leadership “engaged in a pattern of bad-faith peer review of any physician who chose to oppose the hospitals’ drive for excess and inappropriately collected remuneration, such that such physicians were eliminated from the medical staff if they chose to speak out as whistleblowers concerning any aspect of the scheme,” according to the documents. He also accuses Jackson-Madison County General Hospital of paying for referrals from Medical Specialty Clinic, a group practice led at the time by the hospital’s chief of the medical staff, Dr Charles Hertz. Deming alleges that these illegal payments for referrals were concealed in a series of real-estate transactions.

A statement issued to heartwire from Jackson-Madison County General said that the hospital “is fully cooperating with government investigators and because this is an ongoing investigation we have no further comment.” In a prepared statement, the Regional Hospital of Jackson said it is “pleased that the United States chose not to intervene in the portion of the relator’s lawsuit that named the hospital and a former administrator.”

Likewise, staff at Korban’s office responded saying, “At this time, we have no comment,” and the lawyer for Deming did not return calls.

Deming filed his complaint in 2007, but it remained under seal until Assistant US Attorney William Siler notified the court in May that his office intends to pursue a case against Korban [2]. The US attorneys have agreed to investigate only Deming’s allegations against Korban for false and fraudulent billing for unnecessary cardiac stent procedures that caused the submission of false claims by the hospital. The US attorney’s office in Memphis will file its own complaint against Korban within the next two months.

However, the Department of Justice will not intervene on any of the other charges against any of the other defendants, including the hospitals, but charges against the other defendants cannot be dismissed without approval of the Department of Justice, which also reserves the right to intervene in those actions later.

As first reported in the Jackson Sun [3], last week, US District Judge Dernice Bouie Donald acknowledged the US Attorney’s plan to intervene and ordered that Deming’s complaint be unsealed and served on the defendants with 120 days [4].”

I still think this is only the tip of the iceberg.  If cardiology researchers themselves estimate that over 11% of stents were not ‘appropriate’ with another 38% being ‘undetermined’ (statistics from a previous post) – well, that’s a heck of a lot of folks that got stents that didn’t really need them.

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Now all of my long-term readers should be able to spot the flaws in the logic here. One study, funded by a drug company with results that are at odds with just about every other study ever published – and that’s the one the FDA uses to approve/ expand the indications for stenting? Guess it’s just another ‘easy’ solution to sell to patients / primary care providers who don’t have the time and resources to review the literature themselves.  No surprise, since I am guessing that cardiologists will be placing the majority of these stents..

From HeartWire:
FDA approves expanded indication for carotid stenting
May 6, 2011 | Susan Jeffrey

Adapted from Medscape Medical News—a professional news service of WebMD
Silver Spring, MD – The US Food and Drug Administration announced today it approved an expanded indication for the RX Acculink carotid stent system (Abbott Vascular, Santa Clara, CA) to include patients at standard surgical risk for carotid endarterectomy [1].

Previously, the RX Acculink stent, used in conjunction with Abbott’s Accunet or Emboshield embolic-protection devices, was approved for use only in patients requiring carotid revascularization who were at high surgical risk. These high-risk patients were also required to have a reference vessel diameter ranging from 4.0 mm to 9.0 mm at the target lesion and be symptomatic with a stenosis of the common or internal carotid artery of >50%.

The stent was also previously approved in high-risk patients without neurological symptoms but with a stenosis of the common or internal carotid artery >80%.

In January, the FDA’s Circulatory System Devices Panel voted 7 to 3 in favor of this expanded indication for the system, saying the benefits of carotid stenting in patients at standard risk for adverse events from endarterectomy outweighed the risks. wait – are you sure about that?? because most of the data shows that surgical risk is actually well under 1% – and that’s looking at VA studies involving tens of thousands of patients, with multi-year follow-up..

The panel also voted 6 to 4, with one abstention, in support of the safety of carotid stenting in standard-risk surgical patients and 8 to 2, again with one abstention, in a vote that asked about the effectiveness of therapy in this expanded patient population.

“Expanded access to RX Acculink means patients and their healthcare providers have another option for treating clogged neck arteries,” Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement.

The FDA based its approval on the Carotid Revascularization Endarterectomy versus Stenting Trial (CREST), a 10-year study of 2502 symptomatic and asymptomatic patients at 119 clinical sites in the US and Canada, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke with supplemental funding by Abbott.

Patients were treated and followed for at least one year. Results of that study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that patients treated with stenting had a similar combined rate of death, stroke, and MIs those who underwent surgery [2].

Those who underwent surgery, however, had fewer strokes, and those who had stenting had fewer MIs over follow-up. There was also an effect of age, where older patients had fewer events with surgery, while younger patients had slightly fewer events with stenting. Wait a minute – older patients – surgery is actually safer.. but remember, that’s the excuse we received from the beginning – ‘stents are for the frail old people’.. define ‘slightly fewer’ – does that mean ‘not statistically significant’ because that’s what it sounds like. [cartagena surgery]

The FDA advisory panel emphasized the need for additional long-term follow-up information and the importance of the stent’s use in conjunction with an embolic-protection device.

As a condition of the approval, Abbott is required to conduct a postapproval study that will follow new patients treated with the stent system for at least three years to confirm the results identified in CREST.

The postapproval study will also evaluate how patients age 80 years and older respond to treatment, whether treatment success is affected by operator experience, and whether symptomatic and asymptomatic patients have different outcomes.

“The study is consistent with recommendations made by the expert advisory panel,” the FDA statement notes

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Over at theheart.org they’ve published a whole series of video lectures, articles, and discussions on the phenomena of overstenting and inappropriate PCI.. Of course, you have to be a member to read any of it – which leaves a lot of my readers out in the cold. As longtime blog readers know, we’ve discussed this topic at length in previous posts:

What is overstenting?

The problems with stenting (USAToday report)

I have another re-post from Reed Miller on the topic – which I’ve pasted below.. It’s quite wordy, but I want you to remember while you are reading this – that they are discussing the percentage of inappropriate procedures according to cardiology guidelines – now that’s a particularly important point, because, if you recall – about a month ago: there was an article calling into question the validity and appropriateness of these very guidelines, since the majority of cardiologists that helped draft them were paid large sums of money by stent manufacturers and drug companies.

Also I have placed certain areas in italics.. Areas where I feel the commentary in the article is questionable, or open to debate – such as stenting the left main or three vessel stenting – just because interventional cardiologists have decided that they should perform this procedure doesn’t mean that it benefits the patient – or that the procedure isn’t still somewhat controversal.
So what does this mean to you – it means that we need to continue to focus a critical eye on cardiology, and the current use and indications for stent placement.

So, what should you do if you find yourself in this situation? you or a loved one has just had a cardiac catheterization, and you find yourself wondering about the best/ most appropriate treatment.. Ask to have a cardiac surgeon review your history and films.. A lot of good facilites already do this – to get a second opinion.. A cardiac surgeon is going to be looking at your films with a different perspective – we only want to do surgery once – when it benefits the patient the most, since surgery is nothing to be taken lightly.

NCDR shows 11.6% of nonacute PCIs and 1.1% of acute PCIs are “inappropriate” based on AUC
April 5, 2011 | Reed Miller

“New Orleans – A review of over 500 000 cases presented at the American College of Cardiology (ACC) 2011 Scientific Sessions shows that overuse of PCI is uncommon but that there is still plenty of room for improvement in the number of inappropriate elective PCI procedures.” Really? More than 1 out of ten – and they say it’s uncommon? Pretty darn frequent, you ask me (cartagenasurgery).

This morning, Dr Paul Chan (St Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute, Kansas City, MO) presented results of a study of over 500 000 cases in the National Cardiovascular Data Registry (NCDR) from July 2009 to June 2010 that categorized each PCI as appropriate, inappropriate, or of uncertain value based on the 2009 coronary revascularization appropriate use criteria (AUC). The AUC writing committee included representatives of the ACC, Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI), and several other cardiology organizations, including two surgical specialty groups.

Chan reported that overall, 84.6% of the procedures in the study that could be categorized were appropriate based on the AUC, while 4.1% were inappropriate and 11.2% were in categories that the AUC deems uncertain.
Former SCAI president and member of the AUC writing committee, Dr Gregory J Dehmer (Texas A&M University College of Medicine, Temple), told heartwire that the study by Chan and colleagues “really gives us our first biopsy of what is the level of appropriateness of PCI care in all of these NCDR hospitals, which include over 900 facilities.”

Dehmer proclaimed that the results are “great news, especially in today’s environment,” referring to the recent cases of interventionalists charged with routinely performing inappropriate PCIs. “It’s very comforting news for both patients and regulators,” he said.

Most of the problems in nonacute procedures

Of the cases that could be categorized by the AUC, 71% were acute patients, and 98.6% of these were deemed appropriate procedures while only 1.1% were inappropriate. Chan also pointed out that there was very little variation among hospitals in their rates of appropriate and inappropriate procedures for acute patients. The acute cases included were ST-elevated MIs (21.3%), non-STEMIs with documented troponin rises (20.5%), and patients with high-risk unstable angina (29%).

However, among the 29% of the categorizable elective PCIs for nonacute patients in the study, 50.4% were categorized as appropriate, 38% were of uncertain value, and 11.6% were inappropriate based on the AUC. About 71% of the inappropriate nonacute patients were low-risk according to their ischemia study results, and two-thirds were asymptomatic to very mildly symptomatic. More detail on the study will be provided when the results are published in a peer-reviewed journal. The paper is currently under review, Chan said.

The study showed wide variation from center to center in the rate of inappropriate intervention in nonacute patients, ranging from below 10% to over 30%, and the median was 10.7%, with an interquartile range of 6% to 16.7%. Some of these cases were appropriate due to special circumstances, Chan said. “However, it is unlikely that exceptions would explain this marked variation across sites” in the rate of inappropriate procedures in nonacute patients.

Mostly good news, but plenty of room to do better

Chan agreed that the study results show that “on the whole, the US angioplasty community is doing a decent job in ensuring that most procedures are appropriate when you look at the acute and nonacute procedures all together, but we do have some work to do in the nonacute setting.” He added that “no other subspecialty has taken the lead on self-regulation and self-reflection like cardiology has, and it’s a tribute to organizations like the ACC that are moving this field.”

Really? Didn’t several cardiologists have to be charged with malpractice for ‘the subspecialty to take the lead’?? Didn’t state legislature (maryland) have to become involved for an investigation to take place?? (cartagenasurgery)

Chan and Dehmer both emphasized that while there is plenty of room for reduction of unnecessary procedures, no center should expect to have a rate of 0% inappropriate procedures. There will be cases where patient characteristics not considered in the AUC make an otherwise inappropriate procedure appropriate for a particular patient. The AUC categorizes 198 clinical scenarios based on acuity of presentation, extent of coronary disease, the extent and magnitude of ischemia, the intensity of medical therapy, and the severity of symptoms, but the AUC do not consider potentially critical factors such as age, Dehmer pointed out. “For example, what you’d do for a 45-year-old guy who can’t hold down a job because of his coronary disease might be different from what you do for an 85-year-old grandmother who just sits and knits all day.”

Sounds like the 45 year old might need CABG or TMR versus 27 stents that will close in a year or two. (cartagenasurgery)

“But when you have some hospitals exceeding 17%, in the upper quartile, and others at 6%, we need to learn what the hospitals with lower rates are doing differently,” Chan said.

Chan also pointed that about 19% of the PCI cases that the investigators originally looked at for inclusion in the study could not be categorized by the AUC because the case record is missing some relevant information. For example, the study had to exclude patients who had stress tests but whose ischemia risk was not recorded by the referring physician. “That’s something that we can improve” by emphasizing to the NCDR sites and referring physicians the importance of collecting all of the information needed to show that a procedure is appropriate.

He also noted that the AUC will soon be updated to reflect more recent clinical trials on left main and three-vessel disease, although most of those procedures are already categorized as appropriate.

this wisdom of doing PCI on the above mentioned patients is still hotly under debate, but as we’ve discussed before- long term data favors CABG (in these patients with SEVERE disease.) The studies they mention only look at six month outcomes. (cartagenasurgery)

Interventionalists must use the data wisely

In the future, centers participating in the NCDR will receive quarterly reports detailing the rates of appropriate, uncertain, and inappropriate PCI procedures performed at their facility, with benchmark data on how other centers are performing. The centers will also receive a line-item list of all the cases that were classified as inappropriate for that quarter so that they can subsequently develop internal quality improvements to better understand why those procedures were performed. “Maybe there are all sorts of reasons to explain it, but we need to find out why. It causes the questions to be asked and then, hopefully, if there is a reason, those reasons can be rectified,” Dehmer said.

Dehmer also pointed out that the continued collection of these data will identify “gaps in our knowledge” and which types of procedures need more study. It may also help to stimulate more discussion among interventionalists about appropriateness. A recent survey by Chan et al found widespread variability of opinion among cardiologists on the appropriateness of some PCI indications.

“Hospitals should look at their rates in relationship to other hospitals and how far above or below the median they are and then look at the list of the inappropriate cases and go back and better understand if there were extenuating circumstances that made them [actually appropriate],” Chan said. “But if there is a pattern such that the majority of those inappropriate cases didn’t have exceptions, then it provides a red flag, and the interventional cardiologists should discuss how this should inform their future practice. Even hospitals with low rates of inappropriate cases can use that information to see if there is further improvement they can make.

“It will be interesting to see how hospitals and physicians work together to develop the quality-improvement effort to look at these questions,” he said. “The use of the reports will dictate how useful the information we’re providing to physicians will be. If the reports are just put on a shelf, they won’t provide hospitals any benefit.”

Also, it appears if you document poorly, when the cardiologists review the data – they will note any discrepancies as ‘uncertain’ instead of ‘inappropriate’ which saves them from admitting what the real incidence of inappropriate PCI is. In 1 out of 5 cases, the cardiologist couldn’t bother to chart completely, but I bet they were more diligent in the billing department…

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