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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Overtreatment for heart conditions: You were right, Dr. Lown

A box of Florida oranges arrived on retired cardiologist Bernard Lown's doorstep last winter from a patient he had seen more than 40 years earlier.  The man had come to him for a second opinion after another doctor had recommended valve surgery, he recalls.  Dr. Lown told him it wasn't necessary, that it would be decades before he needed it.  In fact, it would be four.  The oranges came with a message:  you were right.

Back in the early 1970s, Dr. Lown and his colleagues had realized that blockages in heart arteries weren't the ticking time bombs that people perceived them to be.  Indeed, they could be treated effectively with medication, a healthy diet, and exercise.  They found that advanced testing and the surgery that frequently followed were rarely necessary, and published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1981.  Accordingly, his medical practice had stopped referring patients with significant but stable heart disease for imaging tests.  

Dr. Lown is the grandfather of a movement in medicine today to spotlight and reduce overtreatment.  In April, nine medical specialty groups, including the American College of Cardiology, published lists of tests or treatments that doctors should avoid, in a campaign called Choosing Wisely, launched with support from the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation. 

Read one of Dr. Lown's stories on overtreatment.  Thanks to Chelsea Conoboy, from whose article of July 29 in the Boston Globe Magazine this is adapted.  

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