Maybe enhanced oversight will limit real-life ICD misadventures like the following…
- the palliative care team having to remove the steri-strips from a recently implanted ICD in a patient with weeks to months left to live.
- the patient with depressed cardiac function related to rapid AF who gets an ICD, then an inappropriate shock for rapid AF, rather than treatment of the original problem, the AF.
- the patient with low ejection fraction, no prior heart attack and no symptoms of heart failure who inappropriately gets lumped into the “all low EF’s need ICDs” dogma.
Although my experience may not mirror the majority of practicing heart rhythm experts, I have noticed a significant decrease in the number of non-CRT (bi-ventricular) implants. Fewer “regular” ICDs and pacemakers seem to come my way. Here are a few observations, along with speculation on possible explanations of this observed change in my practice trends.
I implant fewer pacemakers for sick sinus syndrome. As an AF-ologist, more post AF–conversion pauses are treated with primary therapy of the AF, rather than pacing and more drugs–especially in the non-elderly. Successful rhythm control can occasionally supplant the need for a chronic indwelling pacing device. In the non-elderly, this strategy of addressing the root cause (AF) seems much more elegant than having a chronic device which in and of itself does not preclude the need for lifelong medical treatment–in fact, the pacemaker is required because of the medical treatment.
The Pre-ICD Implant Meeting:
Not only does there seem to be fewer ischemic cardiomyopathy patients in the ICD pool, the pre-implant meeting has resulted in a small, but finite, number of patients who decline the shock-only, non-EF improving ICD. Years ago, I did away with the idea of meeting the patient just prior to the implant in the pre-op holding area. Like a dinosaur, I cling to the poorly compensated, and often emotionally draining pre-ICD meeting in the office. We discuss all aspects of the ICD. As death and dying–the elephant in the room–are intimately tied to ICD therapy, this discussion is not easy. Stares and gulps ae not uncommon during these discussions.
What else is discussed in this meeting? Things like longevity after a shock, things like trading a painless peaceful death for the more drawn out heart failure death, and facts like the ICD will not help dyspnea, chest pain or fatigue. “Really, I was not aware of any of that information,” is a common patient response. Although it may sound like I am down on ICD therapy, it is not the case. Rather, I feel strongly that the details of such a life-altering therapy should be enunciated clearly.
Referral bias could also play a role in my changing ICD practice. ICD-installing doctors have different philosophies on ICD use. In a small medical community, one’s ICD philosophy becomes known quickly, and referring doctors have options. So it seems possible that referring cardiologists who deem an ICD necessary may be more likely to refer to a like-minded electrophysiologist who is less encumbered by the complexities of the ICD implant decision.
It has been written many times that doctors are human. Unlike computers or algorithms, human views our shaped by many of life’s influences. An undeniably strong influence in my life is exposure to the palliative care world through my wife’s practice. It is impossible to remain uninfluenced by the seemingly endless stories of human suffering of those unfortunate souls whose death is not sudden and painless. Ideally, the ICD shock that prevents a painless death should add years of quality of life. However, and unfortunately, this ideal is often not the case, especially when ICDs are placed in the older and more diffusely infirmed. For me, as I age, this tug-of-war between quantity vs quality is an increasingly difficult struggle, and I believe strongly that patients should, at a minimum, be introduced to the complexities of the ICD decision.
While the quantity-of-life enhancing prophylactic ICD becomes less prevalent in my practice, the quality-(and quantity)-of-life enhancing CRT device is on the rise. When applied to the appropriate patient, these cardiac synchronizing devices can improve the cardiac output–often dramatically. This resulting power surge from the heart represents one of an electrophysiologist’s greatest triumphs. Hearing the story of a new found life after implantation of a bi-ventricular device keeps the fire going. Looking at an echo of a previously awful, but now normal heart after a bi-ventricular device has yet to get old.
Implanting a CRT device that improves both the quality and quantity of one’s life is a much less complex decision. That said, our device companies have rightly given us the choice of implanting the three lead synchronizing CRT device with either an ICD or pacemaker alone. This choice of CRT with or without shocker adds yet another layer of complexity to the decision making process.
Patients ask, “which CRT device is better?”
“Well, they are different,” I add.
That the only trial showing CRT-defibrillator (versus CRT-pcemaker) superiority barely reached statistical difference–but is quoted as if it were a landslide win–makes CRT device choice even more complex.
You can see how complicated this stuff gets. I have said it before, but the actual installation of the device is many fold less taxing than the discussion of the decisional process.
Unlike the tone of Dr Wes, I must confess that the impending ICD oversight does not worry me. We will see, though. The chapter is still open.