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It’s a busy Sunday in Mexicali – presidential elections are today, so I am going to try to get some pictures of the nearest polling station later.. In the meantime, I am spending the day catching up on my writing..

a polling station in Mexicali

Lots to write about – just haven’t had the time..  Friday morning was the intern graduation which marks the end of their intern year – as they advance in their residencies.. Didn’t get a lot of pictures since I was at the back of the room, and frankly, unwilling to butt ahead of proud parents to get good pics.. This was their day, not mine and I was pleased that I was invited.

I did get a couple of good pictures of my ‘hermanito’ Lalo and Gloria after the event.  (I’ve adopted Lalo as my ‘kid’ brother.. Not sure how he feels about – but he’s pretty easy-going so he probably just thinks it’s a silly gringa thing, and probably it is..)

Dr. ‘Lalo” Gutierrez with his parents

Lalo’s parents were sitting in the row ahead of me, so of course, I introduced myself and said hello.. (They were probably a little bewildered by this middle-aged gringa talking about their son in atrocious Spanish) but I figured they might be curious about the same gringa that posts pictures of Lalo on the internet.. I also feel that it’s important to take time and tell people the ‘good things’ in life.  (Like what a great person their son has turned out to be..)

Same thing for Gloria.. She is such a hard-worker, and yet, always willing to help out.. “Gloria can you help me walk this patient?”  It’s not even her patient, (and a lot of people would say – it’s not our jobs to walk patients) but the patient needs to get out of bed – I am here, and I need some help (with IV poles, pleurovacs, etc.)  and Gloria never hesitates.. that to me – is the hallmark of an excellent provider, that the patient comes first .. She still has several years to go, but I have confidence in her.

She throws herself into her rotations.. When she was on thoracics, she wanted to learn.. and she didn’t mind learning from a nurse (which is HUGE here, in my experience.)

Dr. Gloria Ayala (right) and her mother

She wasn’t sure that her mom would be able to be there – (she works long hours as a cook for a baseball team) but luckily she made it!

Met a pediatric cardiologist and his wife, a pediatrician.. Amazing because the first thing they said is, “We want nurse practitioners in our NICU,” so maybe NPs in Mexico will become a reality.. Heard there is an NP from San Francisco over at Hospital Hispano Americano but haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her.  (I’d love to exchange notes with her.)

I spent the remainder of the day in the operating room of Dr. Ernesto Romero Fonseca, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in trauma.  I don’t know what it is about Orthopedics, but the docs are always so “laid back”, and just so darn pleasant to be around.  Dr. Romero and his resident are no exception.

[“Laid back” is probably the wrong term – there is nothing casual about his approach to surgery but I haven’t had my second cup of coffee yet, so my vocabulary is a bit limited.. ]  Once I finish editing ‘patient bits’ I’ll post a photo..

Then it was off to clinic with the Professor.

Saturday, I spent the day in the operating room with Dr. Vasquez at Hospital de la Familia. He teased me about the colors of the surgical drapes,(green at Hospital de la Familia), so I guess he liked my article about the impact of color on medical photography.  (Though, truthfully, I take photos of surgeons, not operations..)

Since the NYT article* came out a few days ago – things have changed here in Mexicali.  People don’t seem to think the book is such a far-fetched idea anymore.  I’m hopeful this means I’ll get more response from some of the doctors.  (Right now, for every 15 I contact – I might get two replies, and one interview..)

Planning for my last day with the Professor  – makes me sad because I’ve had such a great time, (and learned a tremendous amount) but it has been wonderful.  Besides, I will be starting classes soon – and will be moving to my next location (and another great professor.)

Professor Ochoa and Dr. Vasquez

But I do have to say – that he has been a great professor, and I think, a good friend.  He let me steer my education at times (hey – can I learn more about X..) but always kept me studying, reading and writing.  He took time away from his regular life, and his other duties as a professor of other students (residents, interns etc.) to read my assignments, make suggestions and corrections when necessary.    and lastly, he tolerated a lot with good grace and humor.  Atrocious Spanish, (probably) some outlandish ideas and attitudes about patient care (I am a nurse, after all), a lot of chatter (one of my patient care things), endless questions…  especially, “donde estas?” when I was lost – again.

So as I wrap up my studies to spend the last few weeks concentrating on the book, and getting the last interviews, I want to thank Dr. Carlos Ochoa for his endless patience, and for giving me this opportunity.  I also want to thank all the interns (now residents) for welcoming me on rounds, the great doctors at Hospital General..  Thanks to Dr. Ivan for always welcoming me to the ER, and Dr. Joanna for welcoming me to her hospital.  All these people didn’t have to be so nice – but they were, and I appreciate it.

* Not my article [ I wish it were – since I have a lot to say on the topic].

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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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Here’s another re-post from Heartwire :

Midei and unnecessary stents—or lack thereof—make news again

April 25, 2011            |            Shelley Wood

Baltimore, MD and Greensburg, PA – “Unnecessary stents” and the people who place them have been back in the news this past week with a confusing twist of the tale in Pennsylvania, previously reported by heartwire, where two cardiologists stepped down on charges of unnecessary stenting [1], and a published Commentary, by Dr Mark Midei, in the Baltimore Sun [2].

The latest development in the Greenburg, PA case, reported Saturday in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, involves an admission by the hospital’s chief medical officer that at least six of 141 Westmoreland Hospital patients sent letters telling them they may have received “unnecessary stents” in fact never got stents in the first place. Instead, the hospital now says, these six patients underwent angioplasty procedures that appeared, on review, to not have been medically warranted, although no stents were placed.

The two cardiologists who treated the 141 patients—Drs Ehab Morcos and George Bousamra—voluntarily resigned after hospital administrators first questioned the medical necessity of the procedures. Those questions stemmed from the conclusions of eight independent cardiologists, as part of a review by the American Medical Foundation in Philadelphia. The hospital alerted patients to the situation via a letter, and 19 patients have since launched lawsuits against the two cardiologists and the parent health organization for the hospital, Excela Health.

The hospital has now sent new letters “of clarification,” the Tribune-Review reports, a move that has been slammed by lawyers handling the lawsuits and by outside observers.

“It is confusing,” Dr Gregory J Dehmer (Texas A&M University College of Medicine, Temple) is quoted in the article. “The bottom line is that it was an unnecessary procedure, whether they got a stent or not.”

Midei’s day in the Sun

Meanwhile, Dr Mark Midei, whose predicament in Baltimore is viewed by many as the catalyst for the stepped-up scrutiny of interventionalists around the US, once again lays out his side of the story—this time in the Baltimore Sun, the newspaper that has meticulously covered this saga. In the article, published Friday, Midei notes that he will soon be appearing before the Maryland Board of Physicians to “make the case for retaining my license to practice medicine” but in the meantime wants his voice heard.

Midei repeats an allegation he made when he first spoke out on the case, in an interview with heartwire, saying that St Joseph used him as a “decoy” when the hospital was embroiled in a federal investigation.  He has also, he says, been falsely portrayed as “manipulating” the peer-review process at the hospital, when in fact “any doctor, nurse, technologist, or physician assistant could suggest additional cases for review.” As well, he notes, he was not paid by the hospital based on the number of cases he performed, as press reports have suggested.

As for his relationship with stent manufacturers, he says he never accepted gifts or offers from companies, and any personal honoraria were donated to outside charities or foundations. He does not specifically address the now famous “appreciation pig roast” paid for by Abbott held for St Joseph’s cardiac staff in Midei’s backyard.

But he does, with some humility, acknowledge that may not “have been perfect in my practice of medicine; no doctor can make that claim.”

And he concludes: “I can say unequivocally that my decisions as a doctor have been motivated by one thing only: The well-being of my patients.”

As reported by heartwire, two cardiology organizations recently asked the state of Maryland to legislate cath lab oversight in an effort to avoid the tangles unraveling in Baltimore and Pittsburgh; that plan has since been nixed.

Update: 22 July 2011 – Dr. Midei’s medical license has been revoked. (article re-post – Heartwire.com in another report by Shelley Wood).

Dr Mark Midei’s medical license revoked

July 13, 2011            |            Shelley Wood

Baltimore, MD (updated) – The Maryland Medical Board has concluded its review of Dr Mark Midei, deciding to revoke his license, calling his violations of the Medical Practice Act “repeated and serious.”

The disciplinary actions alert published on the board’s website today notes that the board will not accept any application for reinstatement by Midei for at least two years. At that time, it is up to the board whether it will consider reinstatement of his license.

As previously reported by heartwire, Midei is alleged to have implanted hundreds of unneeded stents when he worked at St Joseph Medical Center in Towson, MD. The imbroglio was ultimately taken up by the US Senate Finance Committee, which issued a damning report back in December 2010.

For years, however, watchers have been waiting to hear what the Maryland Board of Physicians concluded, having charged Midei with violating the Medical Practice Act back in July 2010, focusing specifically on five patients it was alleged may have received stents unnecessarily. A subsequent seven-day hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) led to her issuing a 77-page “proposed decision” that Midei have his license revoked for having violated five provisions of the act, specifically those prohibiting:

  • Unprofessional conduct in the practice of medicine.
  • Willfully making a false report or record in the practice of medicine.
  • Gross overutilization of health care services.
  • Violations of the standard of quality care.
  • Failure to keep adequate records.

In its “findings of fact,” the board concluded that Midei implanted six cardiac stents unnecessarily in four out of the five cases reviewed and noted in his charts that the extent of the stenosis was 80%, when in fact it was lower “and in most cases much lower.” In three cases he falsely reported that patients had unstable angina, when in fact they didn’t, and in all five patients he failed to obtain the active coagulation time and instead administered heparin while inserting the catheter. In one of the patients, Midei “also failed to look at or disregarded the hospital’s note that the patient had already been given an anticoagulant and should not be given another.”

In June, Midei filed exceptions with the board in an oral hearing, which was considered in advance of today’s announcement. Those included a request by Midei that the board reverse the judge’s opinion on which expert reviewer to believe. The ALJ had used Dr Matthews Chacko (Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD) as expert reviewer, whereas Midei’s primary expert witness was Dr William O’Neill (University of Miami, FL). The board’s “consideration of exceptions” notes that all of the experts were “qualified” but that the ALJ “made her determination based on the consistency of Dr Chacko’s testimony and his clear presentation and demeanor” as well as her consideration of professional publications. By contrast, the ALJ “noted some inconsistencies or equivocations in the testimony” of O’Neill. Also at issue was the fact that Chacko was paid $1400 for his report and expert testimony—something Midei raised as problematic. The board report notes that O’Neill, Midei’s expert, was “paid more than 20 times that much.”

Asked to comment, O’Neill emailed heartwire to say: “I think it’s a tragedy that a fine doctor’s reputation and livelihood are ruined when there was never a single shred of proof that he harmed any patient. I stand by my [previous] comment that after reviewing all the records and films personally, I would have no problem letting Dr Midei treat me or a family member. I pity any interventional cardiologist practicing in Maryland today; if Dr Midei can lose his license, any of them could.”

The board agreed with the ALJ’s conclusions and, “using its own expertise,” agreed that Chacko’s testimony “represents an accurate statement of the standard of quality care.” The board clearly took exception to Midei’s suggestion that he sometimes wrote “80%” as a form of shorthand for blockages that in fact were less than 50%, calling that “a justification for a blatant falsehood that resulted in patients receiving unneeded stents as well as the creation of false records.”

The board also questioned the believability of Midei’s testimony that his decision to stent certain patients was on the basis of “remembered” symptoms not recorded in patients’ medical records. “The ALJ found it not credible that Dr Midei could remember these unrecorded symptoms in the cases of patients who were among thousands that he saw only once, for very brief period of time (from 20 to 37 minutes) three years previously.”

As reported by heartwire, Midei, who is being sued by hundreds of former patients believing they received unnecessary devices, is himself suing his former hospital, St Joseph, alleging in part that he was a scapegoat in “an epic campaign of corporate deception, trickery, and fraud” relating to past business deals and a federal investigation. In his medical-board hearing, Midei was permitted to present evidence to support this claim; the board, ultimately, agreed with the ALJ that “nothing St Joseph Medical Center did or failed to do is relevant to the issues of this case.”

The final decision and order, signed by board chair Dr Paul T Elder, contains a number of scalding conclusions about Midei’s conduct, stating that he failed to deal honestly with patients and colleagues and that his reports intentionally and nonaccidentally “exaggerated” patient symptoms and degree of stenosis.

“Dr Midei’s violations were repeated and serious. They unnecessarily exposed his patients to the risk of harm,” the decisions states. “They increased the cost of the patients’ medical care. Dr Midei’s willful creation of false percentage numbers for the degree of occlusion of coronary arteries is indefensible and amounts to a deliberate and willful fabrication of medical records.”

Requests for a reaction from Midei’s lawyers have not been returned. Midei has 30 days to ask for a judicial review of the decision.

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Intra – Operative Myocardial Infarction 

One of the most feared, yet preventable complications is intra-operative / post operative myocardial infarction (heart attack).  Alarmingly, a new paper published on Medscape by Reed Miller suggests that too often we aren’t doing enough to prevent this devastating complication and miss the diagnosis of this condition when it does occur*.

In many cases, patients are asymptomatic, which is no cause for relief – since the thirty day mortality after post-operative infarction is frightening high.  Part of my job in my practice as an acute care nurse practitioner in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery is to perform pre-operative risk stratification and risk reduction for this, and other potentially preventable complications.

There are several important, but easy things we can do to reduce the risk of our patients having a heart attack during or immediately after surgery:

Pre-operative Evaluation:

1. First, screen your patient for the presence of anginal symptoms and associated risk factors – before scheduling an operation.  Surprisingly, many patients are experiencing atypical angina, dyspnea on exertion and other symptoms in their daily lives, yet ascribe these symptoms to “being out-of-shape” or “getting old”.

If there is one thing, I’ve learned after greeting people in the cardiac cath lab to tell them they need heart surgery – it’s that the majority of people tend to ignore or overlook subtle signs until acute chest pain, or an infarction brings them to the hospital.  So, ask you patients about these symptoms, so you aren’t surprised in the operating room.

Ask yourself, What other risk factors do they have?

–     Diabetes, (of any duration) should prompt consideration for pre-operative cardiology workup and a possible exercise stress test.

–     Claudication (peripheral vascular disease), carotid stenosis (or hx of TIAs) or any other history suggestive of arterial disease

–     Elevated cholesterol or unknown cholesterol status, history of cholescystetomy or gallbladder disease or visible xanthomas (particularly on the face)

–    Advanced age – anyone over the age of 65

–    Hypertension, particularly if poorly controlled

–    Anemia, of any origin

–    Poor overall health, poor exercise tolerance (again this may be related to undiagnosed angina)

2. Secondly, Pre-operative Maximization!! This is important for  all major surgeries, but often isn’t implemented for orthopedic, general surgery and other large surgeries.  The other thing to realize is, this isn’t the anesthesia team’s job; it’s the attending surgeon and the primary care physician (jointly).  This means controlled, or correcting all of the items listed  in the previous section (as much as possible):

– cardiac evaluation for patients at medium / high risk for cardiac disease – and having an index of suspicion for people with vague  symptoms.

– treating underlying disease conditions – for example, if your patient has a hemoglobin A1c of 9.0 – delay elective cases until glucose is better managed.  Remember to monitor and manage glucose in the operating room too – unfortunately, this is often only done in cardiac surgery, but it’s important during all surgeries.  Intraoperative Hyperglycemia is an independent risk factor for myocardial infarction/ and is considered a ‘marker’ for infarction.

And check everyone, not just diagnosed diabetics – since hyperglycemia occurs in some normal individuals under physiological stress, and diabetes is grossly underdiagnosed.

Don’t discontinue statins pre-operatively – not only does evidence suggest that statins are protective against intraoperative strokes and sepsis, but the evidence to support discontinuing these medications preoperatively is slim.  Too often, we
discontinue patients needed medications as part of a routine, not an individualized treatment plan.  (Now clopidogrel (Plavix) and warfarin are a little different, but sometimes we continue these medications too – in very
select cases..)

Pre-operative beta blockade – the evidence is overwhelming
in favor of pre-operative beta blockade, yet some people are still neglecting
this (or even stopping these medications in people already on them.)  Continue metoprolol, carvedilol, propanolol, and make sure to ask why patients are taking them in the first place.  “Heart medicine” is an answer that should prompt further investigation.

– Consider and re-consider before discontinuing Aspirin.  In our thoracic (and cardiac ) surgery patients – we always continue aspirin, safely, and have had no increase in bleeding complications.  Often, surgeons can very safely operate on patients taking aspirin – but discontinuing it in these patients may contribute to the risk of intraoperative/ postoperative infarction.

Intraoperatively:

–  Control that heart rate!  We KNOW through decades of research that
slower is better.  Keep the heart rate at sixty or below to reduce cardiac demand.

–   Prevent hypotension – keep the MAP at 70 or above (and be particularly intolerant of hypotension in anyone with a cardiac history –you don’t want to collapse those grafts.
Remember that patients with vasculopathic disease don’t tolerate low
blood pressure as well as you or I – and don’t allow it (low blood pressure) to happen.

–    Monitor for changes in telemetry during the case.

–    Monitor and control hyperglycemia (as mentioned above.)

Article Re-Post from Medscape (Reed Miller):

MIs After Noncardiac Surgery are Often Overlooked

April 20, 2011 (Hamilton, Ontario) — A new study from the Perioperative Ischemic Evaluation (POISE) trial suggests that monitoring non–cardiac-surgery patients for asymptomatic MIs in the first few days after surgery could dramatically reduce their short-term mortality risk [1].

The study shows that “consistently, all over the world, people are at substantial risk of suffering a heart attack after surgery, and if they do, they’re at substantial risk to die or suffer a major event in the coming days, and we need to do a better job to detect them and manage them,” primary author Dr PJ Devereaux (McMaster University, Hamilton, ON) told heartwire. “We want to make the broader cardiology world aware that this is a huge emerging epidemic that’s going to confront cardiology, because there are 200 million adults having surgery every year in the world. . . . We need to get a lot more aggressive about monitoring for these events and recognizing that the majority of people won’t have symptoms when they have these events.”

Devereaux and colleagues followed 8351 patients at 190 centers in 23 countries with four cardiac biomarker assays for three days postsurgery. All of the patients were part of the original POISE trial, reported by heartwire, which showed that beta blockers reduce the risk of MI but increase the risk of severe stroke and overall death in patients undergoing non–cardiac surgery (including orthopedic, cancer, and noncardiac vascular surgeries). Results of the new study by Devereaux et al are published in the April 19, 2011 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Surgery is sort of the ultimate stress test. It does everything that is relevant to causing acute coronary syndrome. It’s very proinflammatory, and it activates the sympathetic system, coagulation, and platelets. That’s why we have this problem of people having myocardial infarction after surgery, [and yet until now] there’s not that much research on the outcomes of heart attacks after surgery,” Devereaux told heartwire. Patients and physicians are often unaware of an MI during this early postoperative period because most of the patients are on high doses of narcotics that “blunt the discomfort of the surgery but may mask ischemic symptoms,” Devereaux said.

Within 30 days of randomization, 415 patients in the study (5.0%) showed evidence of a perioperative MI, defined as either autopsy findings of acute MI or an elevated level of a cardiac biomarker or enzyme assay plus ischemic symptoms, development of pathologic Q waves, ischemic changes on electrocardiography, coronary artery intervention, or cardiac imaging evidence of MI. Nearly three-quarters of the MIs happened within 48 hours of the surgery, but almost two-thirds of the MI patients did not did not experience ischemic symptoms. In fact, patients with a periprocedural MI without ischemic symptoms had a higher mortality rate (12.5%) than those who had symptoms (9.7%).

The short-term prognosis for patients who suffer periprocedural MIs is very poor, with 11.6% mortality at 30 days postprocedure compared with 2.2% for patients who did not suffer a periprocedural MI (p<0.001). Furthermore, Devereaux noted that a recent meta-analysis by his group found that people who suffer a periprocedural MI continue to be at higher risk for death than those who do not for at least a year after the surgery.

Nobody thinks twice about being incredibly assertive about managing an MI in the emergency room . . . [and yet] those MIs have a much better prognosis than these MIs, and we’re ignoring these MIs for the most part.

Regression analysis of the data showed that relatively simple therapies could have prevented many of these deaths. In the study, patients on aspirin had about half the 30-day mortality risk as those not on aspirin, while statins reduced the 30-day mortality rate by about three-quarters. Only 64.8% of patients who suffered an MI in the trial were on aspirin, only 17.8% were receiving clopidogrel or ticlopidine, 52.0% were receiving a statin, and 55.4% were receiving an ACE inhibitor or angiotensin-receptor blocker.

“Patients expect us to look for things that are modifiable and change their risks of very serious events quickly, and perioperative MI is definitely in that category,” Devereaux said. “Nobody thinks twice about being incredibly assertive about managing an MI in the emergency room, which is completely appropriate, but those MIs have a much better prognosis than these MIs, and we’re ignoring these MIs for the most part.”

Commenting on the study by Devereaux et al, Dr Adrian Banning (John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, UK) told heartwire, “We are not optimizing medical therapy before surgery. There are existing guidelines and risk scores that are probably underused. Preoperative testing for ischemia and revascularization is probably overused in a minority of patients, leaving an occult majority without simple medical measures that are likely to be beneficial–including aspirin, statins, and good perioperative blood-pressure control.”

More Research Needed to Clarify Who Is at Risk and How to Treat Them

Devereux’s group is currently enrolling patients into the 40 000-patient prospective cohort VISION study, which is intended to define the optimal approach for predicting major perioperative vascular events, the extent to which troponin measurement after surgery can identify asymptomatic MIs, and these patients’ risk of vascular-related death within one year.

The first 20 000 patients in the study have been monitored with “fourth-generation” troponin assays, and the next 20 000 will be monitored with higher-sensitivity troponin assays. Commenting on the research, Dr Stephen Ellis (Cleveland Clinic, OH) pointed out that with the advent of highly sensitive troponin tests, more research will be needed to define what degree of troponin change is clinically important. “I’m sure there’s some level of troponin where you see a bump that doesn’t mean anything.” For example, Banning and colleagues recently completed a study that suggests the current standard troponin cutoff used to detect an MI has been arbitrarily set too low and leads to an overestimate of the number of MIs.

Dr John French (University of New South Wales, Australia) added that future research should also try to risk-stratify these patients by collecting both pre- and postprocedural troponin levels. Elevated preprocedural troponin may also be a risk marker, he told heartwire.

Devereaux hopes there will also soon be a large national trial to evaluate the best way to manage non–cardiac-surgery patients in the vulnerable perioperative period. Ellis agreed that “we don’t really understand the benefits of some of the medical treatments that we have in our armamentarium in this patient population. . . . There may be some other treatments that are less utilized at present that could cut down on the incidence of perioperative infarction.”

Banning agreed that further research is needed to understand how to prevent these perioperative MIs, not merely detect them. “Troponin measurement postoperatively can help define a risk group with adverse outcome, [but] it is uncertain that we can influence that adverse outcome once the event has happened in those patients already on optimal medical therapy,” he said. “There will be a group identified by routine troponin testing where this event is the first declaration of occult coronary disease, and perhaps this group potentially has the most to gain.”

Although the best approach to managing these patients has yet to be clearly defined, Devereaux emphasized that “in the short term, there’s a lot of intuitive things that we can do better that will likely improve the outcomes, and there’s lots of reasons to be optimistic that, even if we just start monitoring them, we can improve the outcomes.” Devereaux recommends that physicians caring for a surgery patient order a troponin test sometime between six and 12 hours after the surgery and then repeat tests for the first three days after surgery.

His institution has made perioperative MI prevention a priority for its cardiologists. “We’ve changed cardiology from regular cardiology to cardiology and perioperative vascular medicine,” he said. All surgery patients’ cardiac biomarkers are monitored, and the patients are triaged to the coronary care unit or less-intensive care based on their MI risk. He expects his group will be able to present data on the impact of this approach within the next year.

This study was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Commonwealth Government of Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council, the Instituto de Salud Carlos III in Spain, the British Heart Foundation, and AstraZeneca.

part of patient education series – Ask your doctor about your risk for peri-operative MI, and what he’s doing to reduce your risk.

* Diagnosing MI after surgery is another article.

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There are plenty of reasons to consider medical tourism, and it’s not all about money.  While financial considerations may be the driving force today – I expect that to change over the next ten years as the developing surgeon shortage becomes more acute.  American surgeons are becoming older – and we aren’t attracting, training or replacing enough of them to keep up with demand.. Right now the shortage isn’t noticeable… or Is it?

A new article on Medscape (free subscription required, but multiple pages, and difficult to re-post) from the Annals of Surgery discusses increasing wait times for cancer surgery..

The surgeon shortage is expected to impact all specialties, but particularly cardiothoracic surgery where differing experts predict a 2,000 surgeon shortage by either 2020 (9 years!) or 2030, just as they estimate demand will double.  Currently, there are only about 4,500 cardiothoracic surgeons, if that gives you an idea of the scope of the problem.. Right now, the average age of these surgeons is 56 – 57 years old – and training programs are only at 65 – 67% occupancy..

(I can post references if anyone would like for these statistics.)

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Another example in the realm of surgery where easiest doesn’t equal most effective: gastric banding (lap-band). This is one of those procedures highly touted in American medicine – and heavily advertised on television as an ‘easy’ way to lose weight..

First, let’s get some things clear – the ‘easy’ mentality needs to go away in medicine, and so does the pushing of this concept with patients.. None of this; not surgery, weight loss drugs, or conventional treatment is easy for the patient..It’s all hard work, so don’t mislead your patients – that sets them up for failure..

In the article linked here (from the LA times, February 2011) the two doctors interviewed do their best to avoid answering the easy/ effective question. “I let the patient decide,” which is a royal cop-out. Patients come to doctors for expert opinions and recommendations not wishy-washy information that doesn’t present the facts and evidence. The picture accompanying the article is disturbing as well, since it’s captioned as a patient awaiting lap-band.. The patient is clearly morbidly obese – yet is undergoing the least effective option available!

What makes this frustrating to me – is that in talking to patients – is that it’s usually such a long road to even get to bariatric surgery.. Contrary to popular belief and tabloid reporting, the majority of overweight people don’t jump to bariatric surgery.. These patients spend years (sometimes decades) dieting, gaining and losing weight..
This isn’t always the case in other countries where surgery is more readily available – but in the USA where insurance coverage or lack there of, usually dictates care – bariatric surgery is usually the end of a long, frustrating road..

I know I’ve discussed this before on the site – but I feel that there needs to be transparency in treatment options – and that we need to do away with the ‘easy’ concept whether it’s bariatric surgery, stents or even medications.. Don’t sell people easy – give them safe, proven and effective.

I’ll be updating the article over the next few days with links for more information – and hard facts about surgical options and obesity surgery.

Related Articles: Free full-text links: (my titles, the actual titles are a bit longer)

1. It’s Not Easy – a study looking at the patients perspective, and perceptions before and 2 years after bariatric surgery.

2. Current treatment guidelines and limitations – a discussion of current treatment guidelines in the USA and Canada

3. German study with 14 year outcomes after gastric banding – this is a nice study because they use terms that are easily understood for laypeople – and shows decent outcomes for patients with this procedure

4. Single port bariatric surgery – this has been a hot topic over at the sister site. This article discusses the most recent innovations in surgical techniques for bariatric surgery.

5. A review of the current data (2008) surrounding bariatric surgery, obesity, and diabetes and the cost of care.
This is a particularly good article (reviews often are) because it gives a nice summary of multiple other studies – so intead of reading about eight patients in Lebanon or some other small group – you are getting a good general overview..also it gives a good idea the scope of the problem..

I’m trying to collect a wide range of articles for patient education; unfortunately, since surgeons in Latin America are on the forefront of bariatric surgery – a lot of the most interesting articles are in Spanish and Portuguese (or paid articles). i haven’t posted the translations since they are secondary source and all of the other citations are primary source.

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As some of you know – I took on the coffee challenge in graduate school after a few stupid comments from classmates over my coffee drinking habit (I like about four cups a day).. So as part of a grad school assignment I reviewed the literature surrounding coffee, and the active ingredients in coffee and it’s kin (cocoa) and wrote about the health benefits of the methylxanthines; theophylline, theobromide, and caffeine.. I talked about the use of theophylline to prevent anoxic injury to the brain and to help restore spontaneous circulation in people after brady/asystolic arrest..
I also debunked some of the common myths surrounding ‘theophylline toxicity’ and it’s unwarrented and tarnished reputation.**

** (check the potassium level, everyone – and know that the effective / therapuetic range is actually 5 to 10 not 10 to 20)

Since then I hae been ardent follower of coffee drinking/ health stories..
– We now know it doesn’t precipitate atrial fibrillation – as demonstrated in several very large studies last year..

– It’s protective against diabetes and pancreatic cancer..

and now, ladies – it appears the health effects extend to a stroke benefit as well.. Now, maybe it isn’t all true – but the next time someone makes a smarmy comment about coffee harming your health – here’s some ammo to fire right back at them..

Here’s some links to the story- which was widely reported, and picked up by AP.

Coffee reduces Stroke

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110310/ap_on_he_me/us_med_coffee_stroke

http://consumer.healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=650753

LA timesNow – just make sure you haven’t ruined it with 300 calories worth of fat and sugar..

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