A common surgical procedure used to treat coronary artery disease may not be as helpful as doctors had believed. The insertion of a stent to hold open constricted blood vessels is an oft-used but risky treatment option, but now a new study says it offers no benefit over medical options.

In fact, some critics of the procedure say the principal advantage of using it is the income it generates for hospitals. As much as 40 percent of a hospital’s revenue can come from cardiac procedures, so doctors often find themselves pressured to perform stent implantations, chiefly a procedure called percutaneous coronary intervention. In PCI, a metal mesh tube is threaded through the arm or leg. When it is placed at the location of the blockage, it expands to hold the vessel open.

According to a recent analysis, however, over nearly five years, patients given medical treatments such as aspirin therapy or beta-blockers fared almost exactly as well as PCI patients. In fact, most candidates for PCI can be treated medically instead. This would save them thousands of dollars in lifetime costs.

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