Angioplasty costs are higher at non-surgery hospitals

Angioplasty to clear blocked arteries costs more at hospitals not equipped for emergency heart surgery, according to a study presented on Sunday at the American Heart Association scientific meeting.

Elective angioplasty is becoming increasingly common at hospitals that do not conduct more complicated heart procedures. During angioplasty, doctors insert a balloon-tipped catheter into an artery and inflate a balloon to open the narrowed blood vessel.

Researchers from Duke University Medical School in North Carolina analyzed billing data from more than 18,000 patients and found that the average cumulative medical costs were $23,991 in surgery-equipped hospitals, versus $25,460 in those without surgical centers.

"Surprisingly, there was no difference in procedure cost," said Dr. Eric Eisenstein, lead author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at Duke. "We did find a difference in follow-up cost."

The difference was due mainly to the fact that non-surgery hospitals used intensive care units for post-angioplasty care, as required by the study, and patients treated at these hospitals were more likely to be readmitted nine months after treatment.

"Rising costs of medical care make it very pertinent for us to assess value," said Dr. Mark Hlatky, director of the cardiovascular outcomes research center at Stanford University.

Eisenstein said, "there is no guarantee that a community hospital can provide angioplasty services at costs comparable with those of major hospitals with on-site cardiac surgery."

More than 1 million coronary artery opening procedures are performed in the United States each year, according to the American Heart Association.