Medical imaging firm's DTC pitch draws fire

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ProPublica has gone to town on a medical imaging firm, Heart Check America, that pitches patients ten-year contracts to provide preventative heart and health checkups to many younger people not at risk for heart disease.

A reporter for the muckraking non-profit, Marshall Allen, dug into the company's history after he got a telemarketing call peddling the firm's services. He found “scores of consumer complaints against the company, doctors who say the tests are risky, invasive and potentially harmful and regulators who have cited and closed down their facilities.”

“Within the medical community, there is concern that imaging companies may be marketing services to patients for whom they are unnecessary or, possibly, harmful,” wrote Allen. “I consulted with experts….All agreed that heart scans of the type offered by Heart Check America were inappropriate for patients with a low risk of heart disease.”

Allen's piece, in typically damning ProPublica fashion, describes a manipulative sales presentation and finds that the company His inquiries prompted action by state regulators in Colorado and Nevada, where officials ordered the company to stop doing scans without a doctor's orders and to take steps to shield employees from radiation.

The story echoes recent controversies around how some diagnostics firms are marketing their services directly to consumers. Myriad Genetics' BracAnalysis campaign has come under fire.

“Some patients with no risk factors for breast cancer come in and request the test for BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 mutations,” wrote Dr. Erin Tracy in the December, 2008 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology. “The ads are compelling and they're emotionally driven. I end up spending time discussing why a particular test being advertised is not appropriate when I should be addressing important issues such as eating a healthy diet or smoking cessation.”

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