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Cardiac society primarily funded by medical stent manufacturers

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: medical devices, corruption, health news

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(NaturalNews) Medical stents - the little wire devices cardiologists use to open clogged arteries - are actually not the treatment of choice in stable heart disease, but you wouldn't know that just by being a casual observer.

That's because fewer than half of heart patients who are not acute are rushed into the procedure instead of treated first with a regimen of medications, which is the standard procedure, according to a new study.

The study's results come on the heels of separate reports that more and more heart patients are getting stents who don't need them. In Pittsburgh, two cardiologists are in the hot seat after implanting 141 stents in patients who probably received them unnecessarily.

In Towson, Md., another cardiologist could lose his medical license after planting unneeded stents in some 500 patients.

Reports of stent overuse aren't new. Last year, a report by the Senate Finance Committee found that the field of "interventional cardiology" was operation apace and that the industry itself hasn't done much to discourage this overtreatment.

These latest reports actually restate what has been known about medical stents for some time - namely, that they are not being used properly and that, in some cases, certain stents are actually causing more harm than good.

"I always encourage patients to be proactive members of their own healthcare team, and they certainly should be asking doctors if they are on the right medicines," said Dr. William B. Borden, of the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, a researcher in the most recent study citing overuse.

That sounds good, but are patients supposed to be able to trust their doctors to make sound medical decisions on their behalf. So what's going on? Why is this procedure being so overused?

Here's a novel concept: it could be for financial reasons.

Consider that while questions and lawsuits are rising regarding the potential overuse of medical stent procedures, one organization representing cardiologists who implant them is getting a lot of its income from the makers of these stents.

In fact, The Society for Cardiac Angiography and Interventions got 57 percent of its funding - $4.7 million of the $8.2 million it received in 2009, for instance - from stent makers Cordis Corp. (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson), Boston Scientific, Abbott Laboratories and Medtronic.

Another, the Heart Rhythm Society, gets nearly half its revenue from drug and device makers. That organization "sometimes left out or downplayed information about the risks and limitations of cardiac devices and procedures," a ProPublica.org report said.

And overall, stents are pretty big business. Medicare paid out some $25.7 billion for inpatient stays for patients who received cardiac stents between 2004-2009.

No conflict of interest there.

"Our study should be viewed as ... an important stimulus to societies, providers, physicians and health care organizations to try to optimize medical therapy," said Dr. Alvin Mushlin, chairman of the public health department at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "I think there are plenty of opportunities to do more."

Indeed. Like hold accountable those special interests who appear to be important facilitators of cardiac treatment modalities.

If these special interest groups are not actually setting policy and driving treatment standards, the fact that they are taking in so much manufacturer money, combined with the evidence that medically speaking, the cardiac stents are suspect in terms of effectiveness, the appearance of a conflict of interest is substantial.

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