Doctor discusses good, bad, ugly about stents

The newest interventional cardiologist at Jefferson Regional Medical Center said Tuesday that there are good things about the use of medical stents, as well as bad things.

Speaking to the Pine Bluff Rotary Club, Dr. Nicholas Willis said one of the good things about stents is that they can treat blockages, reducing the need for bypass surgery.

“You don’t have to cut a person open,” he said. “It’s all done with a needle stick to the leg and it’s a good treatment for people who have one or two (blood) vessels blocked.”

Later, responding to a question from one of the club members, Willis said that while the most common way to insert the stent is still through the leg, it can also be done through the wrist, reducing the need for patients to have to lie down flat for an extended period of time.

“Those numbers are increasing every year,” he said about doctors inserting the stent through the radial artery of the wrist.

Additionally, repeat procedures are more feasible if the stent needs to be replaced, he said.

Willis said that while bypass surgeries have “leveled off in the past 10 years” and stents are being used a lot more, “stents aren’t a cure-all for coronary disease.”

He said if all three arteries to the heart are blocked, that surgery provides more durable long term healing possibilities.

Willis also talked about what he described as “the ugly,” citing bad publicity for cardiologists and for the use of stents as the result of investigations into doctors who put stents into patients who didn’t need them.

He mentioned one case of a doctor in another state who was charged in criminal court with defrauding the government on medical bills for patients who received stents and went to prison.

In response to those investigations, the government has contracted with auditors who review medical procedures in hospitals, and Willis said some hospitals in the state are being reviewed by those auditors.

He said that JRMC has contracted with an outside facility to assess the hospital’s procedures in an effort to improve patient care.

“With the new technology, it’s easier for us to do what is right for the patients and to avoid the lawyers,” he said.