Health & wellness

Lown Cardiovascular Center conference to focus on overtreatment

Specialists at the Lown Cardiovascular Center have advocated for decades for the idea that less invasive and less costly care often is as effective for people with heart disease as bypass surgery or stenting. Often the message was not well-received by others in the field, said Dr. Vikas Saini , co-director of the center and president of the affiliated Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation.

Things have changed. New state and federal health care laws promise to pay doctors more if they are successful at keeping patients healthy while spending less money. Now, advice from the Lown Center, named for Nobel Prize-winning Dr. Bernard Lown, and from others around the country who have been working to spread the message that less sometimes really is more in health care, is sought after.

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The Brookline foundation next month will host a conference in Cambridge focused on how to avoid overtreatment, in partnership with the Institute of Medicine and the New America Foundation. Saini is expecting a crowd, including major names in health care.

“We kind of have a credibility about this matter because we were preaching this before there was any money involved, effectively to our detriment,” Saini said. “We were probably the least compensated cardiologists in the country.”

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Representatives from many of the newly-named Pioneer Medicare accountable care organizations and other big health systems will be there. In addition to Lown, keynote speakers will include Institute of Medicine President Harvey Fineburg; Shannon Brownlee, author of Overtreated and director of the New America health policy program; Harvard School of Public Health Dean Julio Frenk; and Dr. Don Berwick, former administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Attendance is by invitation only, but the public can learn more about the topic and interact with conference-goers through the website.

“Providers really know that there is a lot of unnecessary testing and treatments and they need to stand up and be counted,” Saini said. “They need to be seen by the public to be tackling this problem.”

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Efforts by government agencies or insurers to address overtreatment often are met by concerns about rationing health care. When a doctor explains to patients why they should opt for a less expensive but comparably effective procedure, “it has a different feel to it,” Saini said.

Bridget Kuehn writes in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association about growing momentum among health care professionals to develop “good stewardship” of both patients and resources.

She writes that at least nine specialty groups have signed on with the Choosing Wisely initiative of the American Board of Internal Medicine and each agreed to develop a list of five procedures that should be avoided because they don’t improve patient care and may be costly. Those are expected to be released next month.

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.
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