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All is not well,  that ends well !

                                       Treatment guidelines in cardiology  practice  are periodically published by ACC/AHA/ESC.These guidelines  represent the current scientific practice. They are called some times as recommendations. Medical professionals tend to adhere to this guidelines whenever possible.They are not legally binding in most of the countries.In USA some states believe it, to be legally binding.

 

The problem with these guidelines  are , they are classified as class 1 ,class 2 , class 3 recommendations.

 

Class 1, A  drug , device  or a procedure  Is definitely useful and must be prescribed.

Class 3,   A  drug , device  or a procedure  Is not useful and should not be used .

Class 2*, A  drug , device  or a procedure  may be useful  or may be harmful , and hence may be used or may not be used . (Vaguest possible guideline!)

 *Altered to convey the meaning

What are the  guideline violations that can be sued in court of law  ?

A person with established  CAD who is not been prescribed a  statin (Cholesterol lowering drug)  can be sued straight away,  even if the patient has no adverse outcome due to the nonprescription of that drug. The issue here is , the doctor  has not prescribed  a drug which has  proven benefit .The law is clear on that .Most will  agree that,  the  doctor is at fault ,  and he  is never protected  even by their  colleagues .He  can’t defend his action.

What are the medical errors that can never* be sued in court of law !

But the same doctor who opens up a totally occluding coronary artery in an asymptomatic patient(CTO -chronic total occlusion) and lands up  in a complication and the  patient dies. This could be  major guideline violation as opening a CTO in an incidentally detected , asymptomatic patient is a class 3 recommendation. Neither the physician, patient , institution  nor  the regulatory authorities bother about this even though there is strong case for censure , in reality it never happens. Number  of  experts from leading hospitals do this procedure in live work shop all over the world with full media glare, It is an irony the same  experts are only  writing  in their  guidelines  that  these procedures should not be done inappropriately.

And this medical  error ( Should we call it a  crime if it is knowingly done ! )   keeps growing as the physician never feels guilty about it .

The message here is

 A physician of a state of the art hospital,  in a scientifically advanced  country  goes scott free and guilt free  even if he openly violate the scientific guidelines and do a inappropriate procedure that result in a patient death. Mean while a small time physician in a remote place in the same country can be taken to task  for not prescribing a officially  recommended drug (By standard guidelines) .He will be labelled unscientific and unethical even if his non prescription , had not caused any untoward health outcome .

In short , in today’s modern medical practice 

 Even a  ” Minor error of  ommision”   attracts guilt and perceived fear among the physicians. Meanwhile  many  of the ” Major errors of commission”  done by professionals are rarely frowned upon and thus these  mistakes continue to perpetuate !

*There should be a strong provision in medical law to address the issue of inappropriate procedures even if the procedure has not resulted any untoward effect to the patient.

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Is it a crime to do a plain balloon angioplasty in 2008 ?

Plain balloon angioplasty,   the greatest  innovation in   cardiology  when it was introduced in 1977 in a Zurich cath lab , has now become an  ugly  word for most of the cardiologist !

Why this turn around ?  Has technology ,  really overtaken a great procedure and made it obsolete now ?

The answer is a definite ” No”

The restenosis which was the villian in the plain old angioplasty has never been overcome even today. Stents initally used as a bail out procedure during  abrupt closure , later it was used conditionally, followed by provisional stenting and now in 2008  we are made to believe  it is mandatory.

When we realised , bare metal stents are equally  bad (If not slightly better ) in arresting the restenosis drug eluting stents came into vogue with a big bang in 2002. It was projected as the ultimate breakthrough in interventional cardiology and  in 5 years the truth was exposed and it not only failed to prevent the restenois but also had a dreaded complication of acute stent thrombosis.

Now we know , metals  inside a coronary artery  carry  a life long  risk of sudden occulusion , and we talk about biodegradable stents (With poly lactic acid ).

 Common sense ( Unscientific truths)  would suggest

Plain balloon angioplasty still has a major role in our global  cardiovascualr population.

Since restenosis is the  only issue here, ( about 30% )  we can choose patients in whom even if restenosis is likely to happen  no major harm is done . A vast majority of chronic stable angina patients  fall in this category.

Aggressive lipid lowering with plain  balloon angioplasty has never been tested properly . In future also it is unlikely,  such trials will be done as it would be considered unethical . But that would be a premature conclusion.

The other major issue is the cost of stenting , the procedure of PCI/PTCA  has become unaffordable for most of the population in developing countries .The primary reason being the PCI without stenting is considered  ” A untouchable” . If only we remove this stigma from the cardiology community   a signiificant population will be benefited.

A patient with chronic stable angina treated with POBA ,if develop further angina after few years , he  is likely to get a recurrence of  relatively safe  stable angina.  While in a post PCI patient  any angina after the procedure becomes a unstable angina ( Braunwald classification)  and requires emergency care . Angina in a  stented patient is can not be taken lightly as  the the course of angina is unpredictable .

POBA in primary PCI ?

Many may think it is a foolish idea . It has been found many times,  when we rush the pateint to   cath lab after a STEMI  we are in for a surprise !. About 30% of times it is a very complex lesion profile  like diffuse disese,  tight bifurcation lesions , loaded with thrombus or a left main disese.

We fail to realise a basic  fact  , the  initial aim of primary PCI is to salvage the myocardium ,and the next comes the prevention of restenosis . It may even , be argued salvaging  myocardium is the only aim ! Myocardial salvage sould be done urgently . And even  removing the thrombus and opening a IRA can be suffice in a patient who is crashing on table.  Of course stenting can be done whenever possible. But for IRAs which has complex anatomy attempting a perfect stent PCI   (Some may require more than few stents)  as an emergency procedure invariably affects the outcome. One should spend  shortest possible time  inside the  illfated coronary artery. Prolonged manipulations within the coronary artery in an unstable patient  aiming at  longterm patency of an IRA  is to be avoided .The pending procedures can always planned in a next stage. 

Final message

So it is not a crime to think about plain balloon  angioplasty  in some of  our  patients  with acute or chronic coronary syndromes .  Hope Gruentzig  is listening from the heaven and hopefully agree with me !

Dr.S.Venkatesan, madras medical college, chennai, India .

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Peer review of an article even in major journals never scrutinise the “Aim of  a study ” . However big is the journal,  they seem to bother only about the authors, materials, methods, and statistical analysis.  If only they peer review an article , right from the “Aim of the study” like ,

  • Who asks the research questions?
  • Who  defines the aim of the study ?
  • Who decides which drug to be compared with which drug ?
  • Who steers the steering commitee of a trial ?

If only , we could answer these questions without bias , pharma industry and their  regulators  would have ,  far more better image than what they have now !

A typical example for , the aim of the study  to be  wrong  , is  the “ONTARGET’ study on telmisartan.

Here they ( Who ? ) raised an inappropriate  question of     “Non inferiority” of one drug with other  without any  valid reason to compare these two drugs that will benefit the man kind !

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