Heart Attack Tests for All?
Group of Prominent Cardiologists Calls for Radical Change in Testing for Heart Risk
WebMD News Archive
Tests Uncover Major Risks continued...
But Bild says there are simply too many unanswered questions about the new
"We always advise caution before launching a widespread screening
program," she says. "We would emphasize the need for a clear look at
the tests' cost effectiveness, the accuracy of the tests, the availability of
the tests, and most important, what interventions should be done based on the
tests. We would also be concerned about telling people they have a disease that
puts them at risk without clear evidence that treatment will change their
Topol notes that screening has risks -- and that the tests' unproven benefit
does not outweigh those risks.
"These tests just show you have a lot of cholesterol in your artery, or
an artery that is narrowing," he says. "We don't know how good they are
in predicting heart attacks. So you could get a test that shows a narrowing of
your artery, and end up with a drug-coated stent in your artery for no
Shah says the real risk is that people will continue to die of heart attacks
their doctors never saw coming.
"If we wait for definitive clinical trials, we will keep losing
individuals to heart attacks because they have never been screened," he
says. "This is a challenge to the medical community. It does not preclude
clinical trials. But in the meantime, you have to do medicine based on
collective wisdom and collective knowledge.
"The bulk of evidence supports this initiative," says Shah.
How Much Would You Pay?
The new screening tests aren't cheap. Shah estimates that a CT heart scan
ranges from $100 to $350, while an ultrasound arterial scan ranges from $300 to
$400. Since the tests aren't officially recommended, most insurance and health
maintenance plans won't pay for them.
Multiply the costs by nearly every middle-aged American adult and you have a
big up-front expense -- even if the SHAPE doctors persuade insurance companies
the tests will save them money in the long run.
WebMD asked Shah what he says to patients who balk at the price tag. His
response: "You spend $400 or $500 on car maintenance. Isn't your body worth
"As the evidence behind the tests builds and they become more
mainstream, the costs are going to come down," Shah adds. "Meanwhile,
it is still much more expensive to have a heart
attackthan CT scan."