Are Most People With Complex Coronary Disease Getting The Best Treatment? 1

angiogram

The relative value of PCI (stents) and bypass surgery for the treatment of people with blocked coronary arteries has been a topic of intense interest and debate for more than a generation now. Over time, the less invasive and more patient-friendly (and less scary) PCI has become the more popular procedure, but the surgeons (who perform bypass surgery) and cardiologists (who perform the less invasive PCI) have argued furiously about which procedure is safest and will deliver the most benefit in specific patient populations. In general, the most complex cases require the more thorough revascularization provided by surgery, while the more simple cases do well with PCI and can therefore avoid the trauma of surgery. But the specific criteria have remained murky, and interventional cardiologists have aggressively sought to take on increasingly more complex cases.

Now, long term results from a highly influential trial comparing the two procedures offer what is likely the most definitive solution we are likely to have for a very long time. Five year results from the SYNTAX trial have now been published in the Lancet.

Here’s some of the perspective on this study from two very savvy cardiologists, Rick Lange and L. David Hillis. (These comments are extracted from their original publication in CardioExchange. Note that I work on CardioExchange, which is published by the New England Journal of Medicine.)

…The “bottom line” conclusions are:

  1. CABG should remain the standard of care for patients with complex lesions…
  2. For patients with 3-vessel disease considered to be less complex… PCI is an acceptable alternative.
  3. All the data from patients with complex multivessel CAD should be reviewed and discussed by a cardiac surgeon and an interventional cardiologist, after which consensus on optimal treatment can be reached.

But Lange and Hillis, while they seem to largely agree with the study findings, also cast doubt on whether most physicians are likely to pay attention to the study details. They wonder whether most hospitals actually live up to the standards in the study, which requires, for each patient, a review of each patient by the multidisciplinary heart team, and the calculation of a complex SYNTAX score to establish the precise degree of risk.

Okay, let’s be honest….

  1. In your hospital, in what percentage of patients with left main or 3 vessel CAD are all the data systematically reviewed and discussed by a “Heart Team”?
  2. Do you calculate SYNTAX on all patients with left main or 3 vessel disease, or do you usually just “guestimate” lesion complexity?

If Lange and Hillis’s suspicions are correct, many people with complex coronary lesions are not receiving the best possible care. Hmmm.

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