(PHOTO CREDIT : STONY BROOK MEDICINE)
Dr. Poon, along with his team, has developed a non-invasive way to detect heart disease. (PHOTO CREDIT : STONY BROOK MEDICINE)

Stony Brook Medicine’s Dr. Michael Poon is making game-changing advances in diagnosing cardiovascular disease.

About one in four deaths each year in the United States are caused by heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronary heart disease in particular is the number one killer of women, yet approximately two-thirds of women who die unexpectedly of the disease show no prior knowledge of having the disease or even symptoms.

While there are a plethora of tests in use by doctors all over the world to detect heart disease such as stress imaging and electrocardiogram (ECG) tests, doctors are constantly looking for more reliable, non-invasive and efficient methods of detecting heart disease.

Poon is a professor of Radiology, Medicine and Emergency Medicine and director of the Advanced Cardiovascular Imaging Center and Dalio Center of Cardiovascular Wellness and Preventive Research.

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Poon and his team have been developing a non-invasive method of diagnosing cardiovascular disease using Coronary Computed Tomographic Angiography (CCTA), also known as cardiac CTA. since 2009. His method has now been incorporated into the standard protocol for the emergency department to use with incoming patients.

CCTA works by using CT technology to detect a dye administered intravenously to produce high-resolution 3D images of the heart and major arteries. The actual images are generated by passing x-rays through the body and detecting them with a scanner which renders the 3D images.

As a non-invasive method, CCTA still allows for detection of blockages in arteries, and does so even faster than traditional methods. The technique takes less than one minute and yields lower recovery time and better results, according to the Heart and Vascular Institute of the Cleveland Clinic.

“CCTA is a game changer to diagnose heart disease and it is particularly effective when we are evaluating women,” Poon said in an interview with Stony Brook Medicine’s Newsroom. “More frequently than men, women experience symptoms that seem more flu-like or fatigue-oriented rather than typical symptoms more commonly associated with a heart attack. Without CCTA, they may go undiagnosed.”

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Another main benefit of CCTA is reduced cost to hospitals. The CDC reports that  diagnosis and treatment of coronary heart disease costs $108.9 billion each year in the United States. Most of this cost comes from unnecessary tests and admissions or failure to diagnose symptoms early enough.

Poon’s studies were some of the first to show how CT scans can be used to reduce costs for hospitals and patients. A scan costs patients about $700 and each unnecessary admission costs $5,000 for the hospital, according to an article by Newsday. Poon told reporters, “For every 250 patients who do not have to be admitted, the hospital saves about $1.25 million.”

Chairman of radiology at Nassau University Medical Center Dr. Victor Scarmato pointed out that the dosage should also be considered as a major factor besides economic need. According to the Cardiovascular Research Foundation’s research news website TCTMD, studies have been done showing that high-quality CCTA images can be obtained with very low doses of radiation.

“We don’t want to give anyone a radiation dose unless the benefit of that dose outweighs the use of the scan,” Scarmato said in an interview with Newsday.

Looking at the usage of CCTA in Stony Brook’s Hospital itself, the approach developed by Poon has been saving countless lives and will continue to do so, allowing the hospital to remain cost-efficient as well.

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