Pulmonary embolism treatment teams adopted widely for complex disease



NEW YORK – Seven years after the formation of the first pulmonary embolism response team (PERT), more than 100 institutions have joined the PERT Consortium, which was created to guide care and research for this thrombotic complication, according to a status report at a symposium on vascular and endovascular issues sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

Dr. Richard Channick, director of the pulmonary vascular disease program, University of California, Los Angeles Ted Bosworth/MDedge News

Dr. Richard Channick

“Why are PERTs needed? Pulmonary embolism patients are like snowflakes. No two are the same,” explained Richard Channick, MD, director of the pulmonary vascular disease program, University of California, Los Angeles.

Patient variability is an issue because algorithms for pulmonary embolism (PE) often differ at the point of diagnosis, such as the emergency department or intensive are unit, according to Dr. Channick, who was present when the first PERT was created in 2012 at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston. In addition, treatment algorithms can seem complex at a time when patients are deteriorating quickly.

“The treatment algorithms always say consider this or consider that, and then you get a recommendation with a 2B grade of evidence. So what do you do?” Dr. Channick asked, “This has really been crying for an organized approach.”

PERTs were created to fill this need. In most centers, PERTs are organized to respond to a diagnosis of PE wherever it occurs in the hospital. The goal is rapid activation of a team of experts who can reach a single consensus recommendation.

At MGH and UCLA, a similar relatively simple scheme has been created to guide physicians on how to activate the PERT and which situations make this appropriate.

“A big part of the PERT value has been our ability to conduct a real-time virtual consultation where we leverage online technology to look at images together in order to agree on a strategy,” Dr. Channick explained.

Although frequently asked what specialists are needed for an effective PERT, Dr. Channick said it depends on institutional structures, the types of specialists available, and, in some cases, the specific characteristics of the patient. In many situations, a pulmonary vascular specialist and an interventional radiologist might be sufficient. In others, team members might include some combination of an interventional cardiologist, a cardiac surgeon, and a hematologist.

It is also appropriate to include clinicians likely to participate in care following acute treatment of the PE. “One of the most critical values to PERT is the ability to systematically follow patients” after the PE is treated, Dr. Channick said.

So far, there are no data to confirm patients managed with PERT achieve better outcomes than those who are not. Reductions in mortality, length of stay, and costs are reasonably anticipated and might eventually be demonstrated, but Dr. Channick said that PERTs already have value.

“I think the efficiency of care is important,”he said. He called PERT a “one-stop shopping” approach to ensuring that multiple strategies are considered systematically.

There are many anecdotal examples of the benefits of shared decision-making for PE treatment. In one, a pulmonary specialist in a PERT team narrowly averted a planned thrombolysis in a patient diagnosed with PE who was actually found to have severe pulmonary fibrosis, according to Dr. Channick.

Not least important, the shared decision-making of a PERT could relieve the burden of difficult choices in complex situations. Bad outcomes in PE can be unavoidable even with optimal therapy.

“To me personally, a very important benefit of being part of a PERT is the feeling that we are all in it together,” Dr. Channick said. “Patients can go from being pretty stable to being dead very quickly.”

The PERT Consortium has sponsored an annual meeting on PE since 2015. It also maintains an ongoing registry for PE data from member institutions. These data are expected to have increasing value for comparing the impact of patient characteristics, treatment strategies, and other variables on outcomes.

For clinicians who are uncertain whether the PE incidence at their institution justifies a PERT, Dr. Channick had some advice. “If you build it, they will clot,” he said, meaning that due to the frequency of PE, a PERT will generally have plenty of work once created.


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