Report: More than half of heart stent surgeries in China aren't needed

China is starting to see some pushback against the country's ever-increasing reliance on heart stent surgeries, as a major cardiologist warns that more than half of the 340,000 highly profitable procedures performed there each year are unnecessary and leave many patients worse off. If the government takes action, such restrictions could ultimately dampen the global medical device industry's efforts to expand there.

China Daily reports that the country hasn't yet taken a number of steps that would help better manage heart stent use, such as more detailed regulations, insurance policy and clinical guidelines, or even a formal registry that would track the number of surgeries and their long-term outcomes. It is essentially the wild west of heart stent procedures, according to the article, where its annual number has grown from 20,000 10 years ago to approximately 340,000 today--second only to the United States.

"We've wasted lots of resources and haven't solved patients' problems," cardiologist Hu Dayi is quoted as saying at China's 23rd Great Wall International Congress of Cardiology, which he helped put together. "An intentional overuse of stents has become common on the mainland, a practice that must be changed immediately."

One of the drivers here, as the story notes, is that stent surgery is lucrative to domestic stent makers, with patients paying as much as eight times the initial factory price for a stent. And while China's Ministry of Health requires multiple medical assessments for surgeries involving more than three stents, hospitals haven't widely adopted the measures, Hu is quoted as saying. 

As the article explains, China's numbers echo a similar phenomenon in Britain and the U.S., where a 2010 clinical study found that about half of patients who underwent heart procedures for conditions other than heart attacks didn't need to get a stent. But Hu argues that the problem in China is far broader. For example, only 10% of heart stent operations in China are used for patients who had actual heart attacks, Hu notes, a far lower number from the developed world where more detailed regulations and clinical management limit stent use more effectively.

- read the China Daily story