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The truth behind that Life Line Screening letter in your mailbox

Published: Jun. 16, 2016 at 3:27 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 16, 2016 at 8:55 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Medical sources are split over the benefits of health screenings offered in an unsolicited letter showing up in Mid-South mailboxes.

Texas and Ohio-based Life Line Screening sent letters to an untold number of consumers. The letter invites them to local churches to take advantage of five health screenings--primarily cardiovascular tests--at a price of $149. According to Life Line Screening's web site, its "highly trained technologists" provide "state-of-the-art ultrasound screening equipment" for testing.

"Life Line Screening has been in business since 1993, answering the need for low-cost, community-based screening in comfortable, non-threatening locations such as churches, town halls and synagogues," said Life Line Screening Corporate and Brand Communications Director Joelle Reizes. "We screen approximately 800,000 people a year."

"I received one in the mail yesterday, and I was leery of it," Terri Hester of Memphis said. Hester, who has no known history of cardiovascular disease, said she did not initiate contact with Life Line Screening.

"It is not very beneficial," said Dr. Kishore Arcot, board-certified interventional cardiologist of the Memphis Vein Center/Memphis Cardiology. Arcot said the Life Line Screening tests often generate false-positives when performed on patients who are asymptomatic, or showing no symptoms or evidence of heart disease.

The first test offered in Life Line Screening's letter, the carotid artery screening for plaque, is listed among the American Academy of Family Physicians 'Fifteen Things Patients & Physicians Should Question.'  According to the academy, the test's false-positive rate can "...lead to harm through unnecessary invasive procedures, over-treatment and misdiagnosis."

"(The tests) can cause unnecessary anxiety, and a patient can get labeled as having a heart problem or carotid problem, which would have serious implications on his employment and even his insurance," Arcot said.

"We have extensive quality control procedures and have done side-by-side comparisons to hospital vascular labs," Reizes said. "Our screenings are highly accurate. Despite the claim that our screenings could lead to a large number of false positives, no one has ever produced evidence to support that."

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued guidelines and ratings on each of the tests offered in the letter. In each case, the task force guidelines either recommended against the screenings on asymptomatic patients or recommended them only for specific genders and ages with risk factors.

"I think sometimes these guidelines lag behind," said Dr. Steven Gubin, board-certified cardiologist of the Stern Cardiovascular Center in Germantown, Tennessee.

Gubin performs screenings similar to the Life Line Screening tests, including the carotid artery plaque test, on both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients.

"You're actually screening people who don't have symptoms so you can prevent a cardiovascular event," he said. "You can actually identify patients that have very early signs of atherosclerosis (plaque build-up). If you pick up plaque at an early age, you'd be more aggressive in treating the risk factors to help prevent a cardiovascular event. These screenings save lives, definitely."

Life Line Screening has maintained an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, despite more than 150 complaints in the last three years about its solicitations, products, and services--and questions concerning the value of its tests.

"There clearly appears to be a difference of opinion within the medical community about the value of these tests, qualified people on both sides of the debate," said Randy Hutchinson, president of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South.

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