Low-value health care services that provide little or no benefit to patients are “common, potentially harmful, and costly,” and there is a critical need to reduce this kind of care, the American Heart Association said in a newly released scientific statement.
Each year, nearly half of patients in the United States will receive at least one low-value test or procedure, with the attendant risk of avoidable complications from cascades of care and excess costs to individuals and society, the authors noted. Reducing low-value care is particularly important in cardiology, given the high prevalence and costs of cardiovascular disease in the United States.
The statement was published online Feb. 22, 2022, in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
High burden with uncertain benefit
“Cardiovascular disease is common and can present suddenly, such as a heart attack or abnormal heart rhythm,” Vinay Kini, MD, chair of the statement writing group and assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, said in a news release.
“Our desire to be vigilant about treating and preventing cardiovascular disease may sometimes lead to use of tests and procedures where the benefits to patients may be uncertain,” Dr. Kini said. “This may impose burdens on patients, in the form of increased risk of physical harm from the low-value procedure or potential complications, as well as follow-up care and out-of-pocket financial costs.”
For example, studies have shown that up to one in five echocardiograms and up to half of all stress tests performed in the United States may be rated as rarely appropriate, based on established guidelines for their use.
In addition, up to 15% of percutaneous coronary interventions (PCIs) are classified as rarely appropriate, the writing group said.
Annually, among Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries, low-value stress testing in patients with stable coronary artery disease is estimated to cost between $212 million and $2.1 billion, while costs of PCI for stable CAD range from $212 million to $2.8 billion, the writing group noted.
“At best, spending on low-value care potentially diverts resources from higher-value services that would benefit patients more effectively at the same or reduced cost. At worst, low-value care results in physical harm in the form of preventable morbidity and mortality,” they said.
“Thus, reducing low-value care is one of the few patient-centered solutions that directly address both the need to control health care spending and the societal imperative to devote its limited resources to beneficial health care services that improve health,” they added.
The group outlines several ways to reduce low-value cardiovascular care targeting patients, providers, and payers/policymakers.
For patients, education and shared decision-making may help reduce low-value care and dispel misconceptions about the intended purpose of test or treatment, they suggested.
For clinicians, a “layered” approach to reducing low-value care may be most effective, such as through education, audit and feedback, and behavioral science tools (“nudges”) to shift behaviors and practices, they said.
For payers and policy leaders, interventions to reduce low-value care include national insurance coverage determinations; prior authorization; alternative payment models that reward lower costs and higher-quality health care; value-based insurance designs that financially penalize low-value care; and medical liability reform to reduce defensive medical practices.
Low-value cardiovascular care is a complex problem, the writing group acknowledged, and achieving meaningful reductions in low-value cardiovascular care will require a multidisciplinary approach that includes continuous research, implementation, evaluation, and adjustment while ensuring equitable access to care.
“Each approach has benefits and drawbacks,” Dr. Kini said. “For example, prior authorization imposes a large burden on health care professionals to obtain insurance approval for tests and treatments. Prior authorization and some value-based payment models may unintentionally worsen existing racial and ethnic health care disparities.
“A one-size-fits-all approach to reducing low-value care is unlikely to succeed; rather, acting through multiple perspectives and frequently measuring impacts and potential unintended consequences is critical,” he concluded.
The scientific statement was prepared by the volunteer writing group on behalf of the AHA’s Council on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research.
The research had no commercial funding. Dr. Kini disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
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