5:00 am
Wed January 5, 2011

Duke Study Finds Overuse Of Internal Defibrillators

heart illustration
Credit Vintage Collective, Flickr Creative Commons

Too many cardiac patients are getting internal defibrillators when they don't need them - that's the result of new research from Duke.

Implantable cardiac defibrillators are used for patients who have irregular heart rhythms to zap their hearts back to a regular beat. Former vice president Dick Cheney has one.   But Duke researcher Sana Al-Khatib says she was surprised to find many patients who got a defibrillator didn't meet evidence-based guidelines for having one:

"I'm sure some of these instances fell in the grey zone where the physician felt that, you know the best thing to do was to implant the defibrillator. But I wouldn't have expected that rate of you know, this was just clinical judgement and the physicians were using their clinical judgement... I don't think that alone, that can explain a rate of close to 23 percent."

Al-Khatib also found patients who got unnecessary defibrillators were more likely to have complications, and were more likely to die.   An implantable defibrillator can cost 30,000 dollars.