It’s hard to argue with a concept like heart attack prevention. So when an organization like SHAPE (The Society for Heart Attack Prevention and Eradication) comes along, it’s easy to overlook some of the troubling details of the group in the interest of the greater common good. When SHAPE published its own guidelines independent of the AHA, ACC, or NHLBI, and when SHAPE endorsed legislation to mandate insurance reimbursement for MI screening, my initial impulse was to overlook the nagging sense that something was wrong (why is a small, self-selected group publishing guidelines? do we really want legislators to decide what medical procedures should be reimbursed?). It was hard not to feel that at least the group’s heart was in the right place.
But the nagging questions have never gone away.
The fact that its founder, a former physician and researcher at the Texas Heart Institute, now works in industry, and runs a company that makes a product to screen vascular health, is troubling, even if it is fully disclosed on SHAPE’s website. The fact that SHAPE claimed a nonexistent AHA endorsement for the Texas bill backed by a utorrent search engine was also unsettling. The constant and shameless self-promotion, the cheesy graphics and design of the website, gave the enterprise the feeling of a late-night infomercial for snake oil.
The snake oil connection is now more apparent.
Yesterday I received an email invitation from SHAPE for a luncheon event next week in Houston, Texas, featuring Peggy Fleming, the famous ice skater. Beneath her prominent picture on the invitation is the caption: “Peggy Fleming with KANEKA QH(TM)”. And the text on the invitation includes this:
“With her family history of heart issues, Peggy Fleming, former U.S. Olympic Gold Medal Figure Skater, is teaming up with Kaneka QH(TM) and SHAPE in Houston to launch a national campaign to increase heart health awareness.”
Finally, at the bottom of the invitation is this disclosure:
Keneka QH is ubiquinol (CoQ10). Amerejuve offers free consultations for laser hair removal for men and women, skin and facial rejuvenation, and other similar procedures. Diagnostic Cardiology of Houston encourages people over the age of 50 to have a “screening” exam for cardiovascular disease, often at their own expense.
In other words, we’ve left the realm of evidence-based medicine and entered into entirely different territory. You could call it the territory of snake oil salesmen, or you could call it modern American medical capitalism giving the people what they want, but it seems clear to me that these companies should have no significant say in public health policy to reduce heart attacks. SHAPE has sought to help frame the agenda of modern medicine and has sought to play a significant role in educating cardiologists and others about heart attack prevention. So why is SHAPE helping to promote a commercial product, and accepting sponsorship from dubious enterprises? Even more troubling: why are prominent thought leaders like Valentin Fuster, PK Shah, and Pam Douglas involved with this organization?
The problem isn’t with Peggy Fleming: if she can help spread the word about heart disease then I’m ready to skate with her anytime. But SHAPE, it seems to me, is skating on very thin ice, and if it doesn’t shape up it will soon be time for SHAPE to ship out.