The party’s over

A good number of cardiology colleagues are vigorously bashing the outcome of the COURAGE Trial. Recall that COURAGE is the large clinical trial recently released that showed that, in people with stable angina (chest pains), people did equally well with “optimal medical therapy” as with stents.

The problem is that many of my colleagues wouldn’t know what to do in a world deprived of implanting 10 stents a day. Giving people nitroglycerin/statin drug/aspirin/beta-blocker day after day, week after week, would be an awfully dull world. All the excitement of the cath lab would be a lot more rare. We’d actually have to wait for a heart attack from some dumb smoker! All the money would disappear, too. After all, seeing a patient in the office pays, at best, $200 (and has to be stretched to cover overhead expenses like staff, malpractice insurance, and rent). Putting a stent in can pay $2000, $3000, $4000, often more. Put in several a day and—Wow! Now we’re talking money.

You can understand how upsetting it is to my colleagues who feel like the rug may be pulled out from underneath their practices and lives. Feel as sorry for them as you do for people who lose their jobs on an assembly line because of robotic technology. Or travel agents because everyone makes travel arrangements over the internet. Technology, in this information technology, marches on.

Cardiologists, cath labs, stent manufacturers, and the huge industry built around heart disease had their party. Now it’s time to clean the room and sober up. The party’s over.

The broader acceptance of “optimal medical therapy,” as lame as it is, will eventually open the door for many to demand for something even better. Ever hear of Track Your Plaque?