Lisa Sheppard, MD - October 28, 2013
A recent story written by Kaiser Health News which appeared as a segment on National Public Radio and on their website focused on the community screening industry, and Life Line Screening in particular. While our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Andrew Manganaro and the perspective of one customer are represented in the story, it also included a number of misleading assertions and misrepresented facts.
It is important to first note that Life Line Screening has collected the largest database of screening results of its kind, which we are making available to academic researchers for free to help add to the evidence-base around the utility of screening and better understanding of vascular disease. This research collaboration has resulted in numerous academic publications. In fact, our focus is on using academic means, excellent clinical quality and clear patient education to help move individuals, and the nation’s conversation, towards better outcomes through preventive health. Our work is based on rigorous protocols and customer follow-up, and our team is comprised of noted clinical experts, reviewing physicians and a celebrated Chief Medical Officer. To imply otherwise or to suggest that we are irresponsibly promoting unnecessary screening is simply wrong.
The most concerning element of the article is a statement from a representative of the AAFP that following a carotid artery screening, “the patient is more likely actually to have a stroke because of the screening and subsequent testing and possible surgery than if they’d never been screened at all.”
There is no data or studies to support this claim. Ultrasound is a non-invasive, no-radiation, medically-accepted technology used widely to perform examinations, including in emergency rooms by the bedside, and in hospitals across the country that offer screenings themselves. The argument that screenings would lead to a greater likelihood of a stroke because a patient who discovered they were at risk would then initiate a conversation with their physician about the best treatment approach, and may actually be treated, sells short the physician, the patient and the fundamental value of prevention. Indeed, sometimes the “watchful waiting” described in the article may be the best course of action once the patient has consulted their physician – but that doesn’t mean that the screening wasn’t valuable or accurate, since the patient would likely not have known they even had a condition or risk factor worthy of “watching” otherwise.
In the words of noted physician, Matthew Mintz, Associate Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, with whom we consulted, “As a point of clarification, screening does not make it more likely that a person will have a stroke. There is some concern that the follow-up testing or possible surgery could cause a stroke, but newer, modern methods of follow-up and the expertise of an experienced surgeon make this possibility far less likely than older research assumed. Learning that you have an early stage problem means you can make decisions that may help you live longer, live healthier and be in control of your health. This is part of the conversation you should have with your doctor, and you may find that screening is an excellent choice if you have risk factors and are interested in learning what is going on inside of your body.”
The story also alleges that “many of the findings are false positives.” This is simply not the case. At Life Line Screening, we are highly committed to accuracy and quality, and we have extensive experience delivering on this commitment – as we have provided more than 8 million screenings (as the article notes).
In fact, we have conducted a side-by-side audit study in the U.K. that found excellent accuracy when correlating our findings to the standard criteria used by United Kingdom hospital vascular and radiology departments. We are also in the process of completing additional research in the U.S, and we are confident that these findings will further support the accuracy of our screenings.
The piece suggests that Life Line Screening tests “healthy people.” In fact, we screen based upon recognized appropriate risk factors. The vast majority of our clients have one or more notable risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, or diabetes, and the average age of our patients is 62, well within a clear risk category. That’s far from the characterization of broadly screening healthy people, and in contrast, supports that our screenings offer a valued healthcare service for today’s seniors – many of whom face significant access to care challenges and need or prefer options outside the traditional system. When a patient comes to our screenings, they learn about healthy behaviors and risk factors, become more educated, more knowledgeable, and hopefully more empowered to take care of their health.
Finally, the article includes the opinion that, “when information comes in the form of an advertisement or promotion, regardless of the source, be skeptical.” The reality is that doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and even dentists all advertise their services. Many of these organizations or businesses are also “for profit.” Does that mean that we should assume that any healthcare service that invests in raising awareness of its offerings should be discounted or considered warily? If so, many of us would likely have to go out and find new providers for all our health needs. Indeed, as a for-profit, Life Line Screening is carefully transparent about its prices and services, contrary to most peoples’ experiences with healthcare billing.
Hopefully this information and data help clarify some of the information presented in this recent story. If you have any further questions about Life Line Screening and the services the company provides, feel free to reach out to Joelle Reizes, the company’s Global Communications Director, at JReizes@llsa.com.
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