PAD procedure overuse: A field in peril or ‘a few bad apples’?


On May 24, the news outlet ProPublica published a scathing investigation of Jeffery Dormu, DO, said to have performed hundreds of “medically unnecessary and invasive vascular procedures” in his Laurel, Md. office, putting patients’ limbs and lives at risk.

On July 15, The New York Times published a broader-based investigation of several vascular specialists said to have performed “risky” procedures on patients with peripheral artery disease (PAD) who subsequently had to have amputations, or died. The focus was mainly on Michigan-based interventional cardiologist Jihad Mustapha, MD.

This follows a 2019 analysis of Medicare claims data that identified outlier physicians with a high early intervention rate for patients newly diagnosed with claudication. According to the American Heart Association statistics, PAD affects approximately 8.5 million U.S. adults age 40 and older (some claim that’s an underestimate); most cases don’t require invasive treatment.

Are the ProPublica and Times stories emblematic of the field at large or a case of a few rogue doctors, and did changes in reimbursement and support from device manufacturers exacerbate the problem?

Responding to the Times’ revelations, Joseph L. Mills, MD, president of the Society for Vascular Surgery, wrote on the society’s website: “The overwhelming majority of vascular surgeons, and a vast majority of other specialists that receive some training and play a role in the care of vascular patients, including those trained in vascular medicine, interventional cardiology, and interventional radiology are providing high-quality, evidence-based care with safety and the best patient outcomes in mind.

“This is a complex issue that requires the examination not only of the events detailed in this story ... but of the underlying health care economic, legal and regulatory policies that created fertile soil for this behavior to germinate and take root.”

‘A few bad apples’

“I think it’s a case of a few bad apples,” Sunil V. Rao, MD, director of interventional cardiology at NYU Langone Health, New York, said in an interview. “In general, I think physicians who take care of patients with vascular issues are trying to do the right thing. I think all of us who take care of patients with vascular disease see patients who are very, very complex, and there are going to be some procedures that have complications.

“Without knowing the clinical details, it’s hard to know whether the procedures described in the articles were overuse or unnecessary, or exactly what led to the amputations,” he said. “All we know is that these physicians are outliers in terms of the number of procedures they were billing for.

“But although correlation is not causation, it certainly is cause for concern because you would expect that the use of procedures for specific indications would fall within a certain range,” he added.

Lifestyle changes first

PAD is often asymptomatic or mild, making it difficult to diagnose. Revascularization procedures usually are reserved for the 5%-8% of patients at risk for chronic limb-threatening ischemia (CLTI) or those in whom the cornerstones of PAD treatment – lifestyle changes and, if needed, medication – fail.

Revascularization options include balloon angioplasty or stent placement; atherectomy to remove plaques from the artery; or bypass surgery if a long portion of a leg artery is completely blocked. All carry a risk of long-term adverse outcomes, but the rates are highest for atherectomy.

Lifestyle changes include regular exercise, following a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and controlling diabetes and high blood pressure. When PAD continues or progresses despite these modifications, medications such as antiplatelet agents, antihypertensives, and/or lipid-lowering drugs may be prescribed.


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