In 2009, administrators at St. Joseph Medical Center in Maryland wrote letters to the patients of Mark Midei, MD, informing them that its staff cardiologist may have subjected them to a coronary artery stenting procedure inappropriately. That communication prompted an article in a local newspaper, which triggered an investigation by the Senate Finance Committee.
The Committee subsequently released a report which asserted that Midei performed nearly 600 stenting procedures unnecessarily, and charged Medicare nearly $4m for these procedures. According to the report, all the procedures involved stents made by Abbott Labs. Abbott, in turn, had paid Midei $31,000, added him to its roster of top stent volume cardiologists, and feted him with a pig roast at his home to celebrate a prodigious day in which he implanted 30 stents (apparently a company record). Then, after St. Joseph’s dropped Midei from its roster, Abbott hired him to provide services in Japan and China. In the subsequent year, the number of patients who received stents at the hospital fell to 116 from 350 in the previous year.
Most recently, the Maryland Board of Physicians revoked Midei’s license to practice medicine after concluding that he inappropriately implanted stents into the coronary arteries of 4 patients. The Board also determined that he exaggerated the severity of coronary blockages and claimed incorrectly that they had unstable angina. Midei has denied the allegations and sued St. Joseph for damaging his career.
The Midei case is particularly egregious, but a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that many thousands of percutaneous coronary interventions (PCIs)—perhaps as many as 4% of all those performed each year in the US—are inappropriate.
The study was organized by Paul Chan of Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart and Vascular Institute. Chan’s team found that when PCIs were done for acute indications like an evolving myocardial infarction (heart attack), the overwhelming majority of cases (98.6%) were performed for appropriate indications. A remarkably low 1.1% were done inappropriately (in the other cases, the benefit was uncertain).
For elective procedures like the ones performed by Midei however, fully 11.6% of all PCIs were inappropriate, and an additional 38% were carried out for indications associated with unclear benefit. Most of the procedures deemed to be inappropriate were carried out on patients with no angina (54%), low-risk ischemia as determined by exercise testing (72%), or patients that were not receiving ‘maximal’ medical therapy (96%). Ninety-four percent of these patients also did not have ‘high risk’ coronary anatomical findings. (more…)