It was Oct. 28 when the two big North American cardiology societies issued a joint practice guideline on evaluating and managing chest pain that was endorsed by five other subspecialty groups. The next day, another group that had taken part in the document’s genesis explained why it wasn’t one of those five.
Although the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology (ASNC) was “actively engaged at every stage of the guideline-writing and review process,” the society “could not endorse the guideline,” the society announced in a statement released to clinicians and the media. The most prominent cited reason: It doesn’t adequately “support the principle of Patient First Imaging.”
The guideline was published in Circulation and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, flagship journals of the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology, respectively.
The document notes at least two clinicians represented ASNC as peer reviewers, and another was on the writing committee, but the organization does not appear in the list of societies endorsing the document.
“We believe that the document fails to provide unbiased guidance to health care professionals on the optimal evaluation of patients with chest pain,” contends an editorial ASNC board members have scheduled for the Jan. 10 issue of the Journal of Nuclear Medicine but is available now on an open-access preprint server.
“Despite the many important and helpful recommendations in the new guideline, there are several recommendations that we could not support,” it states.
“The ASNC board of directors reviewed the document twice during the endorsement process,” and the society “offered substantive comments after the first endorsement review, several of which were addressed,” Randall C. Thompson, MD, St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute and University of Missouri–Kansas City, said in an interview.
“However, some of the board’s concerns went unresolved. It was after the board’s second review, when the document had been declared finalized, that they voted not to endorse,” said Dr. Thompson, who is ASNC president.
“When we gather multiple organizations together to review and summarize the evidence, we work collaboratively to interpret the extensive catalog of peer-reviewed, published literature and create clinical practice recommendations,” Guideline Writing Committee Chair Martha Gulati, MD, University of Arizona, Phoenix, told this news organization in a prepared statement.
“The ASNC had a representative on the writing committee who is a coauthor on the paper and actively participated throughout the writing process the past 4 years,” she said. “The final guideline reflects the latest evidence-based recommendations for the evaluation and diagnosis of chest pain, as agreed by the seven endorsing organizations.”
The document does not clearly note that an ASNC representative was on the writing committee. However, ASNC confirmed that Renee Bullock-Palmer, MD, Deborah Heart and Lung Center, Browns Mills, N.J., is a fellow of the ASNC and had represented the group as one of the coauthors. Two “official reviewers” of the document, however, are listed as ASNC representatives.
Points of contention
“The decision about which test to order can be a nuanced one, and cardiac imaging tests tend to be complementary,” elaborates the editorial on the issue of patient-centered management.
Careful patient selection for different tests is important, “and physician and technical local expertise, availability, quality of equipment, and patient preference are extremely important factors to consider. There is not enough emphasis on this important point,” contend the authors. “This is an important limitation of the guideline.”
Other issues of concern include “lack of balance in the document’s presentation of the science on FFR-CT [fractional flow reserve assessment with computed tomography] and its inappropriately prominent endorsement,” the editorial states.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration–recognized “limitations and contraindications” to FFR-CT tend to be glossed over in the document, Dr. Thompson said. And most ASNC board members were “concerned with the prominent location of the recommendations for FFR-CT in various tables – especially since there was minimal-to-no discussion of the fact that it is currently provided by only one company, that it is not widely available nor covered routinely by health insurance carriers, and [that] the accuracy in the most relevant population is disputed.”
In other concerns, the document “inadequately discusses the benefit” of combining coronary artery calcium (CAC) scores with functional testing, which ASNC said it supports. For example, adding CAC scores to myocardial perfusion imaging improves its diagnostic accuracy and prognostic power.
Functional vs. anatomic testing?
Moreover, “it is no longer appropriate to bundle all types of stress testing together. All stress imaging tests have their unique advantages and limitations.” Yet, “the concept of the dichotomy of functional testing versus anatomic testing is a common theme in the guideline in many important patient groups,” the editorial states. That could overemphasize CT angiography and thus “blur distinction between different types of functional tests.”
Such concerns about “imbalance” in the portrayals of the two kinds of tests were “amplified by the problem of health insurance companies and radiologic benefits managers inappropriately substituting a test that was ordered by a physician with a different test,” Dr. Thompson elaborated. “There is the impression that some of them ‘cherry-pick’ certain guidelines and that this practice is harmful to patients.”
The ASNC currently does not plan its own corresponding guideline, he said. But the editorial says that “over the coming weeks and months ASNC will offer a series of webinars and other programs that address specific patient populations and dilemmas.” Also, “we will enhance our focus on programs to address quality and efficiency to support a patient-first approach to imaging.”
The five subspecialty groups that have endorsed the document are the American Society of Echocardiography, American College of Chest Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, Society of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography, and Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance.
Dr. Thompson has reported no relevant financial relationships. Statements of disclosure for the other editorial writers are listed in the publication.
A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.