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Study: Defibrillators Used Even When Do Little Good

A new study by Brigham and Women's Hospital finds that cardiac defibrillators are often implanted in people at risk of heart failure even if the device won't do much to save their lives.

Defibrillators can prevent sudden cardiac death in heart patients. But the researchers found that they're frequently given to people who are so elderly or so ill with other diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, that the defibrillators do little to extend their lives.

So the study raises a delicate issue: If a patient is very old, or is suffering from more than just heart failure, is giving that person a defibrillator a good use of medical and financial resources?

The study's author, Soko Setoguchi of Brigham and Women's Hospital, says the research doesn't try to answer that question. But Setoguchi does say that better guidelines should be developed to help decide who should and who shouldn't get a defibrillator.

The study appears in today's issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

This program aired on March 17, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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