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Are Hospitals Downplaying the Risks of Heart Valve Replacement?

A new study suggests that hospitals are touting the benefits of a common heart valve replacement procedure without fully explaining the risks. The findings should remind patients that hospital websites are often more like advertisements than educational resources.

As Reuters reports, the procedure, known as a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), is a new, less invasive method to open a narrowed aorta. While it has some benefits over traditional open surgery, it also comes with other potential complications, including stroke.

“Part of the reason I was interested in this was I’ve seen advertisements for this procedure, and there is not so much emphasis on the risks,” said senior author Dr. Mark D. Neuman of the anesthesiology and critical care department at the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

To generate their results, the researchers examined the websites of all 317 hospitals that offer the procedure, 262 of which had their own web pages describing the procedure. In total, 260 websites listed at least one benefit of TAVR relative to open aortic valve replacement. They included that it is less invasive, has a shorter recovery period, it does not require the use of a heart-lung machine during surgery, and quality of life is improved.

Only 69 websites listed any risks of TAVR. According to the study, this omission is concerning given that patients who undergo the TAVR procedure have twice the risk of stroke compared to patients who have open surgery.

Only 48 websites mentioned stroke at all, and even fewer quantified the risk. In addition, very few hospitals addressed other known risks associated with TAVR, such as kidney injury, the need for a new pacemaker, more repeat hospitalizations and more frequent need for additional procedures.