One of the great, unexplained mysteries of the cardiology world in recent years is the sudden name change from TAVI (transcatheter aortic valve implantation), which had been the universally-used name for the procedure during most of its development period, to TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement) about the time when the procedure edged closer to US approval.
Now, in a clever letter published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Stacey Clegg and Mori Krantz “humbly suggest reversion to the archaic name transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI).” When the procedure is explained to potential patients, they write:
We gracefully explain that we blow up a balloon, smash the old valve to the side, then implant a new one within their existing annulus. Their reaction is often one of bewilderment. This confusion is well founded. Webster’s dictionary defines replace as “to put something new in place of something else,” and implies filling a place once occupied by something removed. One does not have a muffler replaced at the local auto shop and expect to find the old one still in place. Technically, we are performing valve displacement. However, a valve displacement doesn’t sound like an advanced restorative therapy that marketing experts would embrace.
Clegg and Krantz write that TAVI was still in use in 2010 when the first PARTNER trial was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (“Transcatheter Aortic-Valve Implantation for Aortic Stenosis in Patients Who Cannot Undergo Surgery”) but the acronym had been somehow magically transformed by 2011 when the second PARTNER trial was published in NEJM (“Transcatheter Versus Surgical Aortic-Valve Replacement in High-Risk Patients”).
Clegg and Krantz argue that “TAVI” should be restored as “the acronym of choice”:
Why does this matter? We contend that this is not merely semantic, because an accurate name for high-risk expensive procedures is pertinent to healthcare stake holders. It facilitates uniform communication among researchers, payers, regulators, clinicians, and, most importantly, patients. In a clinical landscape cluttered with jargon, we should strive toward verbal precision. Politicians, poets, and pollsters know that words matter. Powerful words launch social movements and even cultural revolutions. The right catch phrase also can launch a new product. However, there should be truth in advertising, and our regulatory bodies should be critical in determining if advertising is misleading or fails to disclose all the relevant facts.
There is one issue about the name change not addressed by Clegg and Krantz, and here we leave the idealistic world of semantics and philosophy and enter the hard-edged world of economics and finance. At the time of the change from TAVI to TAVR there were numerous rumors and speculations about the real reason for the change. Reimbursement for the procedure, the theory goes, would be much higher if it were based on a comparison with surgical replacement rather than surgical repair.