An AIIMS alumni, Dr. Bimal Chhajer is widely known for his work in non-invasive cardiology and books on reversal of heart ailments through lifestyle changes. The cardiologist has worked closely with renowned physician Dr. Dean Ornish, who treated former US President Bill Clinton. A critique of unnecessary use of stents, Dr. Bimal, who has founded New Delhi-based Science and Art of Living (SAAOL), was vocal about misuse of medical devices, especially stents, by doctors.
On misusing of stents
Dr. Chhajer: I am not surprised by the incident in Hyderabad. Even in New Delhi, recently, the Head of Cardiology Department of Safdarjung Hospital, Dr. Rakesh Verma was caught by the CBI with disproportionate assets worth Rs. 10 crore. They were caught because they were government doctors. In corporate hospitals, misuse of stents by misguiding patients is far more rampant.
On pricing of stents
Dr. Chhajer: Stent manufacturers do not incur more than Rs. 10,000 while producing stents. And yet, they sell these stents at Rs. 1 to Rs. 1.5 lakh. Each cardiologist, to implant a single stent, receives a commission of Rs. 30,000. The same doctor performs three to four surgeries in a day and ends up earning anywhere between Rs. 90,000 and Rs. 1.2 lakh on a single day. This is robbery in broad daylight.
Dr. Chhajer: There was a ray of hope for affordable stents when former President of India Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam came out with a stent that could be manufactured for Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 7,000. This stent was never patronised by corporate hospitals. Plans to further do research and improve the stent were shelved.
On various kinds of stents in the market
Dr. Chhajer: First came the balloon angioplasty. Then came ordinary metal stents followed by cobalt-chromium stents. When all these failed, the manufacturers introduced drug-coated stents, radio and laser angioplasty etc. At the end, whatever the stent, five to six years, blockages in arteries recur. Radical lifestyle change is the only way to reverse blockages.