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Including a medical arms race angle in a local health care story – “hot potato” indeed

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Maura Lerner of the Star Tribune newspaper is a veteran health care journalist.

She reports on a man leaving “the Mayo Clinic with a man-made heart and a power pack, ushering in a new era in Minnesota medicine.” The story starts with the “firsts” –  “the first patient in Minnesota — and one of 1,000 in the world — to receive a portable artificial heart that won’t keep him tethered to a hospital.”

But she ends the piece with important questions about competition among hospitals, resource allocation and the medical arms race.  Excerpt:

At this point, only a small number of patients are likely to be candidates for the total artificial heart, said Dr. Peter Eckman, a heart transplant specialist at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview. “The market for this, so to speak, is limited,” he said.

Nevertheless, both the university and Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis are gearing up to do the implants as well.

Hospitals are ready to go

“We’ve gone through all the training, we have it on the shelf,” said Eckman. “All three of these centers have been looking for patients. Mayo found the first one.”

Asked why Minnesota needs three centers, within 90 miles, implanting artificial hearts, Eckman laughed.

“That’s a bit of a hot potato,” he said. “I’ve obviously got a dog in the fight. We look at it as an extension of the program we already offer.”

This could have been just a cheerleading piece.  Lerner made it something more by introducing this angle, one which we hope she and the newspaper continue to pursue.

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