Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments (1)

The Today Show Misinforms People About Robot-Guided Heart Procedure

The NBC Today Show aired a segment on the Stereotaxis robotic system for performing catheter ablation of atrial fibrillation using magnetically-steered ablation catheters yesterday (video here). It sure generated a lot of buzz around our hospital. While I share the reporters enthusiasm for all the gadgets and gizmos (what doctor-engineer wouldn’t like such neat toys?) the enthusiasm should be tempered with a strong dose of reality regarding this technology and any atrial fibrillation procedure.

First is the claim that the patient will be cured with “85-90%” certainty. While these success rates have been reported using this technology for the much simpler atrial flutter ablation, this level of success has not been substantiated in meta analyses of atrial fibrillation ablation studies to date:

The efficacy of AF ablation is largely influenced by a number of factors that include the following: operator experience, volume of ablations, type of cases ablated, to name a few. Nonrandomized trials document a wide variance in the efficacy of AF ablation. In the setting of paroxysmal AF, the efficacy of a single procedure ranges from 38% to 78%, with most series reporting an efficacy of 60% or more. The efficacy reported in persistent AF ranges from 22% to 45%, with most centers reporting an efficacy of 30% or less.

Certainly, patients with intermittent atrial fibrillation typically do better than those with chronic atrial fibrillation, but we are not privy to the number of procedures a patient has to undergo to achieve the success rate suggested by the physician operator in this news segment.

It is also interesting that we learn little of the limitations of robotic navigation using magnets previously reported in the literature:

Using the coordinate approach, the target location was reached in only 60% of the sites, whereas by using the wand approach 100% of the sites could be reached. After step 2 ablation, only 1 PV in 4 patients (8%) could be electrically isolated. Charring on the ablation catheter tip was seen in 15 (33%) of the cases. In 23 patients, all PVs were isolated with the conventional thermocool catheter, and in 22 patients only the right PVs were isolated with the conventional catheter. After a mean follow-up period of 11 ± 2 months, recurrence was seen in 5 patients (22%) with complete PVAI and in 20 patients (90%) with incomplete PVAI.

Admittedly, the data regarding char formation on the ablation catheter were presented before the approval of irrigated-tip ablation catheters less prone to coagulum formation that are used more recently, but few data have been published. But we recall that the reporter makes a huge claim that moving the catheter with the magnets is more “precise,” using the analogy that “it’s like trying to write on a piece of paper with a pencil using the eraser…” The above data dispute these accuracy claims. Further, she conveniently ignores the errors in catheter placement inherent to the patient’s respiration or from the movement of the heart itself. Also, we hear little of the additional time involved in moving a catheter with a magnet versus the hand.

While robotics might help the operator’s back and help reduce radiation exposure during the procedure, I am aware of no data that supports the superiority of robotics to achieve success with better safety or accuracy with atrial fibrillation ablation over more conventional manual approaches. Further, long-term data regarding success rates of this technology for catheter ablation in atrial fibrillation have yet to appear to any large extent in peer-reviewed journals.

-Wes

Disclaimer: I have no industry ties with Stereotaxis or other robotic atrial fibrillation ablation systems.

Addendum 3 Feb 2009 11:30 am CST: An even more scathing review of the journalistic tactics used for this piece appear at Cardiobrief.org.Musings of a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist.

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*


You may also like these posts

Read comments »


One Response to “The Today Show Misinforms People About Robot-Guided Heart Procedure”

  1. afibber says:

    I found DrWes assertion that “First is the claim that the patient will be cured with “85-90%” certainty. While these success rates have been reported using this technology for the much simpler atrial flutter ablation, this level of success has not been substantiated in meta analyses of atrial fibrillation ablation studies to date:” interesting because there are centers that achieve success rate near that level and even higher already using conventional RF ablation. Furthermore, the Heart Rhythm Society meta analysis on conventional ablation therapy show a wide range of expertise that show aggregate success rates starting at around 40% going up to 75% plus for the highest volume centers. My conclusion, I would be suspect of any technology adverse doctors such as DrWes and his trainees or other low volume centers treat us afibbers.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

How To Make Inpatient Medical Practice Fun Again: Try Locum Tenens Work

It s no secret that most physicians are unhappy with the way things are going in healthcare. Surveys report high levels of job dissatisfaction burn out and even suicide. In fact some believe that up to a third of the US physician work force is planning to leave the profession…

Read more »

Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.

***

Click here for a musical take on over-testing.

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

Read more »

See all book reviews »