Saturday, February 28, 2015

Did You Ever Notice?

To quote the late 60 Minutes curmudgeon Andy Rooney, "did you ever notice" how documentary movies--we could extend this to all sorts of documentation as Lancet does it far better than any American medical journals--on anechoic topics seem to come mostly from the Brits?

A telling new example: the just-released film The Widowmaker, found both here online and in a few E and W Coast theaters. (Real world locations given at above link. Seemingly, and sadly, no red states need apply.)

Widowmaker, boasting fine production values and an 'A' team of Gillian Anderson (fittingly of X-Files fame!) and the director of the Wikileaks films, puts a crack in the anechoic wall by pitting two expensive industry-led campaigns against one another: that in favor of CAC (calcium) scores and that in favor of DES (drug eluting stents) for coronary disease..

One comes away from this film with mixed feelings. There are fine moments of mirth, such as when standard EBM quasi-nihilistic talking-head Steve Nissen says "I don't like cost," whereupon the Texas state legislator and CAC true-believer René Oliveira responds "he's an idiot." (The latter quoted in the recent, and acutely observed, NY Times review here.)

Um, boys, so many of you are heart patients--as indeed is your faithful blogger himself--but can we unpack this a bit?

OK, so should everybody in the world, or everybody with a family history, or everybody who ever smoked, get an expensive scan to stratify treatment? (See JACC's 2012 pro-versus-con assessment of this question here.)

I can't, and suspect no one totally can, answer this question. Though in 2015 I'm putting it again to some of my trusted colleagues and will add appropriate addenda in days to come via this posting and this blog.

What's interesting to me, though, is the way health subspecialty folks in the U.S. always try to over-ride common-sense approaches by appeals to (or at least, accession to) politicians who force the hand of industry. Or, perhaps, willingly and breathlessly allow their own hands to be forced by industry.

Health care experts increasingly become mere flotsam and jetsam on a sea of roiling industry-versus-industry waves. (In Texas, legislation was proposed to force payers to pay for CAC screening. And over-use of both stents and CAC scores have become huge sources of cost containment.woes.)

Increasingly, then, the problem in health care has become Spy versus Spy. Industry domination, about which my HCR fellow-bloggers have written eloquently in these pages, is so pervasive that us medical types are just collateral damange. Or, maybe a better metaphor, just injection devices for the profit motive. And media-docs, such as Richard Besser of ABC News, are happy to push the plunger just a little harder.

This film seems to favor the CAC score over the stent. Which probably has it backwards, but film-makers love conspiracies. Obviously, both technologies are over-utilized. (I say this as someone with one of the latter sitting inside his own LAD). Which is one of the many reasons why U.S. health care costs are the highest in the world while our coronary disease death rates are double those of, oh, say, Ecuador and Peru. Where, last time I checked, not so many people were getting scans to check their CAC scores.

To put it another way, the profit motive for devices and IT systems, and the over-arching technological imperatives are wonderful things. Lifestyle modification, not so much.

So who's the real idiot?

1 comment:

Shannon Brownlee said...

Anyone who calls Steve Nissen an idiot is, well, an idiot.