Friday, October 12, 2012

When Cardiologists Risk-Stratify Heart Failure

This is the "MARKED" score, a multi-marker prognostic risk score derived from emergency department patients presenting with acute dyspnea.  The authors state they've presented a "simple, straightforward" score that "may help the treating physician at the ED to decide on urge of intervention, admission, and timing of re-evaluation."

Sounds perfect!  A valuable tool to determine which patients are at high-risk for short-term mortality, possibly to predict which patients may have unanticipated poor outcomes if discharged home?

Ah, sadly, no.

When these cardiologists risk-stratify heart failure, they're using 90-day mortality – an endpoint almost certainly irrelevant to acute evaluation of dyspnea.  The authors recognize the "single-center" aspect of their study as a limitation – but, considering this comes from a dedicated "cardiology ED" in Holland, the external validity is extraordinarily limited.  The authors also do not offer any practical suggestion regarding how this score might be used in practice – or how decision-making using this score effectively changes outcomes compared with usual care.

Finally, this "simple" score features the commonly used laboratory tests such as NT-proBNP, high-sensitivty cardiac troponin T, Cystatin-C, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, and Galectin-3.  It should be no surprise a few authors receive compensation from Roche Diagnostics and ACS Biomarker B.V.

"Multimarker Strategy for Short-Term Risk Assessment in Patients With Dyspnea in the Emergency Department"
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23021334

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

tPA of The Future

"The potential benefits associated with this approach are faster reperfusion, lower risk of hemorrhage, and earlier initiation of fibrinolytic therapy, possibly by first responders."  

Sounds lovely, yes?  This is the pie-in-the-sky version of tPA, complete with flying cars and hoverbuses.  It's a "Clinical Implications of Basic Research" article from NEJM covering a Science article about shear-activated nanoparticles.

Essentially, in a mouse model of acute arterial thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, researchers bound tPA to aggregated nanoparticles.  In normal vasculature, these aggregates remain unaffected.  However, in regions of turbulence and shear associated with stenosis, the aggregates break apart, exposing the biochemically active tPA in greater quantities.  The authors, taking cue from the current political season, promise potential 100-fold reductions in dosing of tPA associated with this serendipitously targeted approach rather than standard systemic therapy.

So, someday, instead of taking an aspirin and calling 911 – home thrombolytics?

"The Shear Stress of Busting Blood Clots"
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23034026

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Drivers of Inefficient Medicine

This is a lovely feature piece in the BMJ concisely detailing that surging occult demon consuming healthcare resources under the guise of "improved health" – overdiagnosis.  It's really quite lovely to see the cultural changes coming in medicine, where increasing awareness of costs in the face of questionable benefit will reshape our profession in the years to come.

These authors, from Australia, describe twelve categories of "disease" that are expanding without obvious clinical benefit, as well as a brief overview of the sorts of practices that drive overdiagnosis.  It's a bit of a lead-in to next year's conference, Preventing Overdiagnosis, at Dartmouth University.

The entire article is worth reading, but I thought their table with the drivers of overdiagnosis was a nice summary:


  • Technological changes detecting ever smaller “abnormalities”
  • Commercial and professional vested interests
  • Conflicted panels producing expanded disease definitions and writing guidelines 
  • Legal incentives that punish underdiagnosis but not overdiagnosis
  • Health system incentives favouring more tests and treatments
  • Cultural beliefs that more is better; faith in early detection unmodified by its risks 
"Preventing overdiagnosis: how to stop harming the healthy"