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Posts Tagged ‘cardiology’

Heading out-of-town for a conference for a few days – but in the meantime, I’ll be working one several case reports from recent surgeries.

We will also be talking about the latest stories from the Heart.org about the recent rise in off-label use of dabigatran (Pradaxa) use.

Rise in Pradaxa (dabigatran) linked to off-label use

Off-label uses

While this new anti-coagulant has been touted as the ‘easy’ alternative to warfarin since serum monitoring is not required – it is currently approved for the use of non-valvular atrial fibrillation only in the United States.

While it is approved for deep vein thrombosis prevention (DVT prophylaxis) in Europe – it is not, and should not be used for anti-coagulation in patients with mechanical valves.  

Off-label use in Canada leads to life-threatening complications

However, that is apparently exactly how doctors in Canada have been using it – with life-threatening consequences.  In a separate article at the Heart.org, doctors report that two female patients with mechanical valves who were recently switched from warfarin to dabigitran suffered from valvular thrombosis.

The “easy button” strikes again

More concerning, these patients had previously been successfully managed on warfarin without problems prior to the switch.  (So they were taken off a drug that was working well – and switched to a drug that is not approved for this condition because it was perceived to be easier to use.)

Within one month of the switch both patients began experiencing symptoms and were then diagnosed with valvular thrombosis.  Fortunately, neither of these patients died – but they certainly could have.

My former boss had a saying, “the enemy of good is better” meaning that if we try too hard to improve on something that is already working  – we unnecessary risk the lives and health of our patients.

Anticoagulants are not all the same

This just brings home the message that drugs that may seem similar, aren’t.  The way that dabigatran works is very different that warfarin, aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), abciximab (Reopro) or the other myriad of anti-coagulation type drugs.  Some of these drugs work on platelets – some of these drugs work on different parts of a complex mechanisms of coagulation (the coagulation cascade).   ‘Anti-coagulants’ is just a blanket term for these medications – and certainly doesn’t fully cover the intricacies of the pharmacology involved.  ‘Easy’ it isn’t – but medicine rarely is.

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It looks like the rest of the medical community is finally speaking up about the overuse and safety issues of TAVI/ TAVR for aortic stenosis, but it’s still few and far between – and in specialty journals…  But in the same week that Medscape, and the Heart.org reported on a newly published article in the British Medical Journal on the overuse of TAVI therapies, and the need for earlier diagnosis and treatment of Aortic Stenosis – the Interventionalists over at the Heart.org (a cardiology specialty journal)  have published a series of articles promoting / pushing the procedure including an article entitled, “The TAVR Heart team roles.”

JAMA recently published a paper by Robert Bonow and Chintan Desnai, discussing the benefits, risks and expectations with TAVI.  This paper discusses the very real need for clinicians to address heightened patient expectations regarding TAVI as an ‘easy’ alternative to surgery.

TAVI is vastly overused – Reed Miller, The Heart.org

Here at Cartagena Surgery – we’ve been doing our own research – contacting and talking to a multitude of practicing cardiologists and cardiac surgeons to get their opinions – in addition to reviewing the latest data.

In related news, a review of the latest research on the ‘transcatheter’ valve therapies demonstrates considerable concern: including data on peri-valvular leaks as reported in the last national TAVI registries in Europe and in the US:

The incidence of  paravalvular leaks  after TAVI is extremely high  ( > 60%)

• It is technically challenging today to quantify these leaks.

• Most of them are quoted “mild”, but more than 15 % are estimated  “moderate” and “severe”.

• In > 5% of patients, the peri-valvular or valvular regurgitation grade increased significantly over time.

• there is no significant difference between Edwards SAPIEN and Medtronic COREVALVE

As one cardiologist explained:

“Importantly, the thrombogenic potential of mild leaks was recently demonstrated by Larry Scotten ( Vivitro System Inc. Victoria, Canada). High reverse flow velocities expose glycoprotein GP Ib-IX-V  platelet receptors  to circulating Von Willebrand molecule with, as results, platelet aggregation and fibrin formation.  The incidence of brain spots and stroke after TAVI was of great concern in the PARTNER A and B studies.  Whereas, Aspirin is not mandatory  in  patients implanted with bioprosthetic valves,   Plavix +  Aspirin is recommended for all TAVI patients. The rationales of such therapy were not explained so far.”

Valve oversizing – a surgeon explains

“To reduce  these peri-valvular leaks , cardiologists tentatively use large valve size, up to 29-mm.  The very large majority of valve sizes used in conventional aortic valve replacement are smaller than 25-mm.  Oversizing may increase the risk of late aortic aneurysms (aortic rupture has been reported) [emphasis added].

Moreover, atrio-ventricular conduction may be impaired  with the need of permanent pacing. Poorer outcomes have been reported in patients when the need for permanent pacemaker occurs.

“As we like to say about clothes and shoes, you forget the price overnight but you remember the quality for ever . The price of TAVI may be cheaper but patients may experience inferior outcomes. In view of these results, using TAVI would not be appropriate for the great majority of  heart valve candidates.  Moreover trans-catheter delivery and sub-optimal fit are not likely to increase tissue valve durability…  and everybody knows that tissue valves are not enough durable for young adults and children.  TAVI is thus a suitable strategy only for the neglected population of high risk patients who are no longer candidates for surgery [emphasis added].

Worth pointing out again  that there would be no need for TAVI and long-term outcomes of patients would be much better if severe aortic stenosis were correctly managed at the right time.  Enclosed the recommendations of Robert Bonow   (Circulation, July 25, 2012) for early valve replacement in ASYMPTOMATIC  patients.  A large cohort of accurate biomarkers is available today for correct timing of surgery  and consequent prevention of  irreversible myocardium damage. In the study of Lancellotti (enclosed) 55% of “truly asymptomatic patients” with severe aortic stenosis developed pulmonary hypertension during exercise and had  poor clinical outcomes. The measurement of both mean trans-aortic pressure gradient and systolic pulmonary pressure, which are technically easy, rapid and with good reproducibility may improve the management of such patients.

These updates on the natural history of aortic stenosis illustrate the present paradoxical and intriguing  focus of the industry on an experimental procedural innovation for end-stage old patients when more efficient heart valves are today feasible and could be used sooner for the benefit of all patients .

Enclosed an article on The Need For A Global Perspective On Heart Valve from Sir Madgi Yacoub.

Additional Reference / supporting data:

Modified from  Ross J and Branwald E   (Circulation 1968 (Suppl): 61-67)

• The  incidence of stroke was 9% after TAVI in  the 214 patients of the enclosed study published last week in the American Journal of Cardiology. The incidence of stroke with TAVI was >  two times higher than with conventional surgery in the PARTNER study.  Pooled proportion of postoperative stroke was 2.4%  with conventional surgery  in the  large meta-analysis of patients > 80 years old (enclosed)

• Peri-valvular aortic insufficiency is observed in more than  60% of patients undergoing trans-catheter aortic valve replacement.  Moderate or severe aortic insufficiency was seen in 17.3 % of the PARTNER inoperable and high risk cohorts at 1 year.  They have been reportedly associated with dyspnea, anemia,  cardiac failure and diminished survival. Most interestingly,  the FDA does not accept more than  1%   peri-valvular insufficiency in patients implanted with conventional prosthetic heart valves… The SJM Silzone mechanical heart valve was re-called  because of peri-valvular leakage rate of…  1.5 % .

• Traditionally, aortic stenosis involving a 2-cuspid aortic valve has been a contraindication to TAVI.  Of 347 octogenarians and 17 nonagenarians  explanted valves , 78 (22%) and 3 ( 18%) had stenotic congenitally bicuspid aortic valve, respectively.  Because the results of TAVI are less favorable in patients with stenotic congenitally bicuspid valves, proper identification of the underlying aortic valve structure is critical when considering TAVI in older patients . More than 50% of patients with aortic stenosis have bicuspid aortic valve and are not, therefore,  good candidates for TAVI. Most importantly, the great majority of patients with calcified stenotic  bicuspid aortic valves is  young ( < 60 years old)  and not candidate for tissue valve replacement.

•  The French Registry of trans-catheter aortic-valve implantation in high-risk patients was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on May 3,  2012. It reports  3195 TAVI procedures during the last two years at 34 centers.

The mean age was 83 years.  The incidence of stroke was 4.1%.  Peri-prosthetic aortic regurgitation was 64 %. The rate of death was 24% at one year. At the same time, the meta-analysis published in the American Heart Journal reports 13,216     CONVENTIONAL AORTIC VALVE REPLACEMENT in patients > 80 years old.    The rate of death was 12.4%  at one year,   21.3%  at 3 years and  34.6%  at 5 years

 

Full references for works cited in text:

Bonow, R. O. (2012). Exercise hemodynamics and risk assessment in asymptomatic aortic stenosisCirculation 2012, July 25.

Lancelloti, P., Magne, J., Donal, E., O’Connor, K., Dulgheru, R., Rosca, M., & Pierard, L. (2012).  Determinants and prognostic significance of exercise pulmonary hypertension in asymptomatic severe aortic stenosis.  Circulation, 2012 July 25.

Takkenberg, J. J. M., Rayamannan, N. M., Rosenhek, R., Kumar, A. S., Carapitis, J. R., & Yacoub, M. H. (2008).  The need for a global perspective on heart valve disease epidemiology: The SHVG working group on epidemiology of heart disease founding statement.  J. Heart Valve Dis. 17 (1); 135 – 139.

Gilard M, Eltchaninoff H, Iung B, Donzeau-Gouge P, Chevreul K, Fajadet J, Leprince P, Leguerrier A, Lievre M, Prat A,Teiger E, Lefevre T, Himbert D, Tchetche D, Carrié D, Albat B, Cribier A, Rioufol G, Sudre A, Blanchard D, Collet F, Dos Santos P, Meneveau N, Tirouvanziam A, Caussin C, Guyon P, Boschat J, Le Breton H, Collart F, Houel R, Delpine S,Souteyrand G, Favereau X, Ohlmann P, Doisy V, Grollier G, Gommeaux A, Claudel JP, Bourlon F, Bertrand B, Van Belle E, Laskar M; FRANCE 2 Investigators. Collaborators (184). Registry of transcatheter aortic-valve implantation in high-risk patients. N Engl J Med. 2012 May 3; 366(18):1705-15 [full abstract below].

BACKGROUND:

Transcatheter aortic-valve implantation (TAVI) is an emerging intervention for the treatment of high-risk patients with severe aortic stenosis and coexisting illnesses.

We report the results of a prospective multicenter study of the French national transcatheter aortic-valve implantation registry, FRANCE 2.

METHODS:

All TAVIs performed in France, as listed in the FRANCE 2 registry, were prospectively included in the study. The primary end point was death from any cause.

RESULTS:

A total of 3195 patients were enrolled between January 2010 and October 2011 at 34 centers. The mean (±SD) age was 82.7±7.2 years; 49% of the patients were women.

All patients were highly symptomatic and were at high surgical risk for aortic-valve replacement. Edwards SAPIEN and Medtronic CoreValve devices were implanted in 66.9% and 33.1% of patients, respectively. Approaches were either transarterial (transfemoral, 74.6%; subclavian, 5.8%; and other, 1.8%) or transapical (17.8%).

The procedural success rate was 96.9%. Rates of death at 30 days and 1 year were 9.7% and 24.0%, respectively.

At 1 year, the incidence of stroke was 4.1%, and   the incidence of periprosthetic aortic regurgitation was 64.5%.

In a multivariate model, a higher logistic risk score on the European System for Cardiac Operative Risk Evaluation (EuroSCORE), New York Heart Association functional class III or IV symptoms, the use of a transapical TAVI approach, and a higher amount of periprosthetic regurgitation were significantly associated with reduced survival.

CONCLUSIONS:

This prospective registry study reflected real-life TAVI experience in high-risk elderly patients with aortic stenosis, in whom TAVI appeared to be a reasonable option.

Rutger-Jan Nuis, MSc,  Nicolas M. Van Mieghem, MD,  Carl J. Schultz, MD, PhD,  Adriaan Moelker, MD, PhD ,  Robert M. van der Boon, MSc, Robert Jan van Geuns, MD, PhD, Aad van der Lugt, MD, PhD,  Patrick W. Serruys, MD, PhD, Josep Rodés-Cabau, MD,  Ron T. van Domburg, PhD,  Peter J. Koudstaal, MD, PhD,  Peter P. de Jaegere, MD, PhD.  Frequency and Causes of Stroke During or After Trans-catheter Aortic Valve Implantation. American Journal of Cardiology Volume 109, Issue 11 , Pages 1637-1643, 1 June 2012 [full abstract provided].

Transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) is invariably associated with the risk of clinically manifest transient or irreversible neurologic impairment. We sought to investigate the incidence and causes of clinically manifest stroke during TAVI. A total of 214 consecutive patients underwent TAVI with the Medtronic-CoreValve System from November 2005 to September 2011 at our institution. Stroke was defined according to the Valve Academic Research Consortium recommendations. Its cause was established by analyzing the point of onset of symptoms, correlating the symptoms with the computed tomography-detected defects in the brain, and analyzing the presence of potential coexisting causes of stroke, in addition to a multivariate analysis to determine the independent predictors.  Stroke occurred in 19 patients (9%) and was major in 10 (5%), minor in 3 (1%), and transient (transient ischemic attack) in 6 (3%). The onset of symptoms was early (≤24 hours) in 8 patients (42%) and delayed (>24 hours) in 11 (58%). Brain computed tomography showed a cortical infarct in 8 patients (42%), a lacunar infarct in 5 (26%), hemorrhage in 1 (5%), and no abnormalities in 5 (26%). Independent determinants of stroke were new-onset atrial fibrillation after TAVI (odds ratio 4.4, 95% confidence interval 1.2 to 15.6), and baseline aortic regurgitation grade III or greater (odds ratio 3.2, 95% confidence interval 1.1 to 9.3).

In conclusion, the incidence of stroke was 9%, of which >1/2 occurred >24 hours after the procedure. New-onset atrial fibrillation was associated with a 4.4-fold increased risk of stroke. In conclusion, these findings indicate that improvements in postoperative care after TAVI are equally, if not more, important for the reduction of peri-procedural stroke than preventive measures during the procedure.

Sinning JM, Hammerstingl C, Vasa-Nicotera M, Adenauer V, Lema Cachiguango SJ, Scheer AC, Hausen S, Sedaghat A, Ghanem A, Müller C, Grube E,Nickenig G, Werner N. (2012).  Aortic regurgitation index defines severity of peri-prosthetic regurgitation and predicts outcome in patients after transcatheter aortic valve implantation.  J Am Coll Cardiol. 2012 Mar 27;59(13):1134-41. [full abstract provided].

OBJECTIVES:

The aim of this study was to provide a simple, reproducible, and point-of-care assessment of peri-prosthetic aortic regurgitation (periAR) during trans-catheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) and to decipher the impact of this peri-procedural parameter on outcome.

BACKGROUND:

Because periAR after TAVI might be associated with adverse outcome, precise quantification of periAR is of paramount importance but remains technically challenging.

METHODS:

The severity of periAR was prospectively evaluated in 146 patients treated with the Medtronic CoreValve (Minneapolis, Minnesota) prosthesis by echocardiography, angiography, and measurement of the aortic regurgitation (AR) index, which is calculated as ratio of the gradient between diastolic blood pressure (DBP) and left ventricular end-diastolic pressure (LVEDP) to systolic blood pressure (SBP): [(DBP – LVEDP)/SBP] × 100.

RESULTS:

After TAVI, 53 patients (36.3%) showed no signs of periAR and 71 patients (48.6%) showed only mild periAR, whereas 18 patients (12.3%) and 4 patients (2.7%) suffered from moderate and severe periAR, respectively. The AR index decreased stepwise from 31.7 ± 10.4 in patients without periAR, to 28.0 ± 8.5 with mild periAR, 19.6 ± 7.6 with moderate periAR, and 7.6 ± 2.6 with severe periAR (p < 0.001), respectively. Patients with AR index <25 had a significantly increased 1-year mortality risk compared with patients with AR index ≥25 (46.0% vs. 16.7%; p < 0.001). The AR index provided additional prognostic information beyond the echocardiographically assessed severity of periAR and independently predicted 1-year mortality (hazard ratio: 2.9, 95% confidence interval: 1.3 to 6.4; p = 0.009).

CONCLUSIONS:

The assessment of the AR index allows a precise judgment of periAR, independently predicts 1-year mortality after TAVI, and provides additional prognostic information that is complementary to the echocardiographically assessed severity of periAR.

Gotzmann M, Lindstaedt M, Mügge A. (2012). From pressure overload to volume overload: Aortic regurgitation after transcatheter aortic valve implantation.  Am Heart J. 2012 Jun;163(6):903-11.  [full abstract provided].

Severe aortic valve stenosis is a common valvular heart disease that is characterized by left ventricular (LV) pressure overload. A lasting effect of pressure overload is LV remodeling, accompanied by concentric hypertrophy and  increased   myocardial stiffness. Transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) has emerged as an alternative to surgical aortic valve replacement for patients with severe symptomatic aortic valve stenosis and high surgical risk.   Although TAVI has  favorable hemodynamic performance, aortic valve regurgitation (AR) is the most frequent complication because of the specific technique used for implantation of transcatheter valves.

During  implantation, the calcified native valve is pushed aside, and the prosthesis usually achieves only an incomplete prosthesis apposition. As a consequence, the reported prevalence of moderate and severe AR after TAVI is  6% to 21%,  which is considerably higher than that after a surgical valve replacement. Although mild AR probably has minor hemodynamic effects, even moderate AR might result in serious consequences. In moderate and   severe  AR  after TAVI,  a normal-sized LV with increased myocardial stiffness has been exposed to volume overload. Because the noncompliant LV is unable to raise end-diastolic volume, the end-diastolic pressure increases, and  the  forward stroke volume    decreases. In recent years, an increasing number of patients have successfully undergone TAVI. Despite encouraging overall results, a substantial number of patients receive neither symptomatic nor prognostic benefits from TAVI.   Aortic valve regurgitation has been considered a potential contributor to morbidity and mortality after TAVI. Therefore, various strategies and improvements in valve designs are mandatory to  reduce the prevalence of AR after TAVI.

Walther T , Thielmann M, Kempfert J, Schroefel H, Wimmer-Greinecker G, Treede H, Wahlers T, Wendler O. (2012). PREVAIL TRANSAPICAL: multicentre trial of transcatheter aortic valve implantation using the newly designed bioprosthesis (SAPIEN-XT) and delivery system (ASCENDRA-II).  Eur J Cardiothorac Surg. 2012 Aug;42(2):278-83. Epub 2012 Jan 30.  [full abstract provided].

OBJECTIVE

Transapical (TA- aortic valve implantation (AVI) has evolved as an alternative procedure for high-risk patients.  We evaluated the second-generation SAPIEN xt ™ prosthesis in a prospective multicentre clinical trial.

METHODS

A total of 150 patients  (age : 81.6;  40.7 % female) were included. Prosthetic valves (diameter :23 mm (n= 36), 26 mm (n= 57) and 29 mm (n= 57) were implanted. The ASCENDRA-II™ modified delivery system was used in the smaller sizes.   Mean logistic EuroSCORE was  24.3%  and mean STS score was 7.5 ± 4.4%.  All patients gave written informed consent.

RESULTS:

Off-pump AVI was performed using femoral arterial and venous access as a safety net.  All but two patients receivec TA-AVI, as planned.  The 29-mm valve showed similar function as the values of two other diameters did.  Three patients (2%) required temporary bypass support.

Postoperative complications included renal failure requiring long-term dialysis in four, bleeding requiring re-thoracotomy in four, respiratory complication requiring re-intubation in eight and septsis in four patients, respectively.

Thirty day mortality was 13 ( 8.7%)  for the total cohort and 2/57  (3.5%) receiving the 29 mm valve respectively.   Echocardiography at discharge showed none or trivial incompetence (AI) in  71%  and mild-AI in 22% of the patients.  Post-implantation AI was predominantly para-valvular and > 2+  in 7% of patients.  One patient required re-operation for AI within 30 days.

CONCLUSION

The PREVAIL TA multicenter trial demonstrates good functionality and good outcomes for TA-AVI, using the SAPIEN xt ™ and its second generation ASCENDRA-II™ delivery system, as well successful  introduction of the 29-mm  SAPIEN XT ™ valve for the benefit of high-risk elderly patients.

Subramanian S, Rastan AJ, Holzhey D, Haensig M, Kempfert J, Borger MA, Walther T, Mohr FW. (2012).  Conventional Aortic Valve Replacement in Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation Candidates: A 5-Year ExperienceAnn Thorac Surg.   July 19 2012  [full abstract provided].

BACKGROUND:

Patient selection for transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) remains highly controversial. Some screened patients subsequently undergo conventional aortic valve replacement (AVR) because they are unsuitable TAVI candidates. This study examined the indications and outcomes for these patients, thereby determining the efficacy of the screening process.

METHODS:

Between January 2006 and December 2010, 79 consecutive patients (49% men), aged older than 75 years with high surgical risk, were screened for TAVI, but subsequently underwent conventional AVR through a partial or complete sternotomy. The indications, demographics, and outcomes of this cohort were studied.

RESULTS:

Mean age was 80.4 ± 3.6 years. Mean left ventricular ejection fraction was 0.55 ± 0.16, and the mean logistic European System for Cardiac Operative Risk Evaluation was 13% ± 7%. Of the 79 patients, 6 (7.6%) had prior cardiac surgical procedures. Indications for TAVI denial after patient evaluations were a large annulus in 31 (39%), acceptable risk profile for AVR in 24 (30%), need for urgent operation in 11 (14%), and concomitant cardiovascular pathology in 5 (6%). Mean cross-clamp time was 55 ± 14 minutes, and cardiopulmonary bypass time was 81 ± 21 minutes. Concomitant procedures included a Maze in 12 patients (15%). Postoperative morbidity included permanent stroke in 2 (2.5%), respiratory failure in 9 (11%), and pacemaker implantation in 2 (2.5%). Hospital mortality was 1.3% (1 of 79). Cumulative survival at 6, 12, and 36 months was 88.5%, 87.1% and 72.7%, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS:

Our existing patient evaluation process accurately defines an acceptable risk cohort for conventional AVR. The late mortality rate reflects the advanced age and comorbidities of this cohort. The data suggest that overzealous widening of TAVI inclusion criteria may be inappropriate.

Industry fights back

Now it looks like Edwards Lifesciences,  the company that manufacturers the Sapien valve is speaking out to dispute recent findings that show TAVI to have less than optimal results.  Of course, the author at the site, Med Latest says it best, “Setting aside the conflict of interest stuff, which might be a red-herring, what we’re left with is a situation where evidence-based medicine, while being something all would sign up to, is not that straightforward.”


[1] Several cardiologists and cardiac surgeons contributed to this article.  However, given the current politics  within cardiology, none of these experts were willing to risk their reputations by publically disputing the majority opinion.  This is certainly understandable in today’s medico-legal climate in wake of widespread scandals and credibility issues. However, all quotes are accurate, even if unattributable with minor formatting (such as the addition of quotations, and paragraph headings have been added for increased clarity of reading in blog format.)  I apologize for the ‘anonymous nature’ of my sources in this instance – however, I can assure you that these ‘experts’ know what they are talking about.

  [All commentary by Cartagena Surgery are in italics and brackets]. 

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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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In an update to a previous story here at Cartagena Surgery, in the attached article, “Medicare to pay for TAVI” from Medpage.com by Chris Kaiser, the guidelines for CMS payment for TAVI/ TAVR have been released.   These criterion include the restriction that only surgery ineligible patients be included and that implanting surgeons must participate in the TAVI registry.

More importantly, this criteria requires that TWO cardiac surgeons determine the patient’s suitability to withstand surgery versus TAVI.  This is a crucial requirement as we’ve discussed before, since only a surgeon can accurately decide/ predict how a patient might tolerate surgery.  (Multiple previous studies showed that primary care providers and cardiologists were poor judges of patient’s surgical risk. )  Also, the lack of this requirement in Europe has caused several ethical problems as interventional cardiologists began the widespread implantation of experimental technologies in lower risk patients (particularly in Germany.)

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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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The Core Valve by Medtronic

Medtronic, the makers and financial backers of a recent study on the Core Valve used for percutaneous aortic valve replacement (aka non-surgical valve replacement) released their findings showing the six month mortality data on patients receiving this valve.

This study which was performed using data from European cardiologists (who have been using this technology longer) were unsurprising – with a higher risk of stroke and overall mortality.  Notably, this study was performed on patients deemed to be ‘at high risk’ for surgery, not ineligible for surgery.  As we’ve discussed before, the term ‘high risk’ is open to considerable interpretation.

A total of 996 frail, elderly patients at high risk for heart surgery were  implanted with Medtronic’s CoreValve device, used to treat severe narrowing of  the aortic valve. Mortality rates at one month and six months were 4.5% and  12.8%, respectively. Stroke rates were 2.9% and 3.4%.

Medtronic said the rates  were consistent with previously reported data from national registries in Europe.”

Unfortunately, the general media’s coverage of these findings have been less than straightforward as Bloomberg proclaims in blazing headlines, “Edwards heart valve skirts rib-cracking for a 2.5 billion dollar market.”  That’s a pretty eye-opening headline that manages to avoid mentioning the real issues – longevity and durability.

Another article from business week proclaims, “Heart Valves found safe.”  Safe, I guess is a relative term – if you aren’t one of the 12.8% that died within six months..

Illustration showing the core valve in place

More about Aortic Stenosis and Valve Replacement therapies at Cartagena Surgery:  (you can also find a link to these stories under the TAVI tab on the sidebar.)

Aortic Stenosis as Heinz 57

More patients need surgery

Aortic Stenosis, surgery and the elderly

Aortic stenosis and TAVI

Aortic Stenosis: New Recommendations for TAVI

Transcatheter Valve Therapies: an overview

TAVI and long-term outcomes

Peri-operative outcomes with TAVI

Talking about TAVI/ TAVR with Dr. Kevin Brady

Will Medicare cover TAVI?

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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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