New Heart Surgery Method Raises Questions For Reformers

A new method for performing cardiac catheterizations may be more comfortable, shows a lower chance of complications such as severe bleeding, and allows patients to be discharged more quickly, potentially saving money, the Washington Post reports. However, the new technique, in which doctors probe the heart by entering a small artery at their patients' wrists, only accounts for one percent of annual catheterizations. Most doctors still use the 30-year old strategy of entering through the larger femoral artery in the groin.

"Questions about the best method of performing cardiac catheterizations, one of the most common procedures in medicine and among the most profitable for hospitals -- Medicare reimburses GWU about $10,600 for an angioplasty involving one stent -- reflect some of the issues in the roiling health-care debate. Is the radial approach, which has a steep learning curve, actually superior or largely a fad? Can it cut costs by reducing hospital stays? And if patients are given a choice of catheterization sites, what factors should they consider?" (Boodman, 9/22).

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