A New Concept in Health Care- Truth Telling

WXYZ Channel 7 Action News Health Report on the Rochester Medical Center's 3-Dimensional Heart Scan, originally scheduled to be aired Thursday, has been postponed due to breaking news that a popular drug, Vioxx, is being withdrawn from the market. This coverage is of immediate concern to many throughout  the metro-Detroit area. The RMC 3-D Heart Scan feature story will air tonight, October 1, on ABC, Channel 7, on the 5:00 o'clock news, in  Carolyn Clifford's Health Report. 

The Rochester Medical Center is looking forward to this news coverage of a very important advancement in the pre-symptom diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. On a personal note,  I was especially moved that anyone in the news media would actually run the story without our having to pay for it. Believe it or not, it has long been our experience that newspapers print medical articles, and radio covers medical news, only in exchange for purchasing advertising space. This is an unhealthy quid pro quo situation.  

As a science writer, and as a consumer of health care, I take issue with any media policy that says, in effect, "We'll run all the news you're fit to pay for." This is, in my opinion, unethical journalism. Either something is newsworthy—in which case it should be run, or it isn't. Simple as that. News writers owe a duty to their public to put forth what is new. That's why they call it "News." This must be done in a manner that strives for honesty and accuracy. Health writing should be held to a particularly high standard because the public deserves to learn new truths about medicine from the legitimate press as well as from health care providers. Information conveyed by advertising, even when accurate, is inherently suspect. So, while the local press and other TV stations showed no interest in bringing our health science news to the public it was heartening for Channel 7's Health Report producer, Bonnie Krasik, to step forward.

In a nutshell, what you will be seeing is that the Rochester Medical Center is the first health care facility in the State of Michigan to use external cameras to see inside the heart's arteries without passing catheters through the vessels themselves. This is newsworthy because, since 1905, the only way to "see" the inside of a coronary vessel was to stick a tube in it. This approach, "cardiac catheterization," common since the 1940's, has obvious shortcomings. The new "3-D" coronary angiography is non-surgical. What this means to patients is: no cut-downs, no anesthesia, no tubes in the groin, no post-op recuperation and no hospitalization.  Studies, including our own, show that it works.

The procedure is simple from the patient's perspective. He or she is given an injection, lies on a table and is "photographed" by a rotating camera. This process results in easier to read pictures of the coronary arteries that are in 3 dimensions and color enhanced.  Current surgical cardiac catheterization gives physicians 2 dimensional X ray pictures only. The application of this 3-D CT technology to coronary arteries is new in the United States. The equipment was engineered in Germany where Dr. Atallah traveled to study with its pioneers, Dr. Alex Kuttner, Dr. Norman Fishbach and Dr. Christopher Becker. Prior to instituting its use at the RMC, Dr. Atallah rotated with Dr. Alan Shapiro and Dr. David  Bush at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. All of these people voluntarily shared their knowledge and vision for which Dr. Atallah is most grateful.  Additionally, Dr. Atallah has been working steadily with Toshiba engineers on product development for the last 10 months.

In order to validate the results obtained by using multi-slice   3-D Coronary Angiography, Dr. Atallah initiated medical research in this area. He invited Wayne State University to participate in the first study in the U.S. on the efficacy of the 3-D angiographic technology when compared with the results of cardiac catheterization. The results of that research are in, and for the first time there is documented proof of 3-D CT's high level of accuracy.

As a matter of professional ethics, a physician would be reluctant to make claims that remain to be studied and confirmed scientifically. So you won't be hearing anything any time soon from a reputable physician.  As a non-physician, however, and as a keen observer of life, my observation has been that hundreds of patients have been successfully evaluated by 3-D Heart Scan and have thereby avoided unnecessary surgical catheterization. Some patients have gone from the 3-D scan directly to surgery, without need for a cardiac catheterization at all.

The statistics indicate that the potential applications of this technique could be enormous: no hospitalization, no pain, no anesthesia, no infection potential, and at a fraction of the cost of cardiac catheterizations. I expect that there will be strong resistance to this within the medical community particularly from those who lack the technology or earn a large portion of their income performing cardiac catheterizations.


© 2004 R. Shea Atallah.