OBJECTIVE--To review, from the purchaser's perspective, the current state of knowledge of techniques for investigation and treating coronary artery disease. The study was based on evidence from past and continuing randomised controlled trials (RCTs). CRITERIA FOR INCLUSION OF REPORTS--Articles listed on Medline (1990-3) with the keywords coronary disease, angina, and unstable angina (combined with surgery, economics, therapy, or drug therapy) and percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) and coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) were included. Articles published before 1990 were obtained from two comprehensive literature reviews published by the Rand organisation in 1991 and from the papers obtained using the Medline search. A hand search of relevant journals published between July 1993 and June 1994 was also undertaken. Results from more recently published RCTs are included. RESULTS--CABG provides improved angina relief compared with drug treatment and may prolong life in patients with more severe illness. PTCA is also better than drug treatment, but less so than CABG, and its cost advantages over CABG decrease with time. Repeat intervention for return of symptoms is more frequently required after PTCA, but increasing numbers of patients are also undergoing second and third repeat CABG for graft occlusion in the years after the original operation. Newer PTCA techniques are not, as yet, fully evaluated. One technique, atherectomy, has been shown to be no more effective, and more expensive, than conventional balloon angioplasty. In the short term intracoronary stents reduce the problems associated with vessel occlusion after PTCA and therefore reduce the need for further intervention. PTCA should not be performed without ready access to cardiothoracic support. There is an increasing trend towards the development of coronary catheterisation units at peripheral sites. This may lead to increasing, inappropriate use of this investigation in suboptimal circumstances. CONCLUSIONS--Ischaemic heart disease is an important cause of morbidity and mortality and invasive management techniques are developing rapidly; some service expansion is occurring without trial evidence. More research is required to determine the optimum balance of PTCA, CABG, and angiography and population requirements for these procedures. In the meantime, in the absence of firm long term evidence of the superior cost effectiveness of PTCA compared with CABG, the rapid expansion of this procedure should be limited. Patients should be fully informed of the benefits and disadvantages of CABG and PTCA, where either procedure is indicated, to enable them to make fully informed choices.
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