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Cardiac Screening for All Young Athletes Carries Big Price Tag: Study
Date:11/27/2012

, the researchers tried to figure out what would happen in the United States if it adopted rules like those in Italy, where young athletes undergo cardiac screening every year.

The study estimates that over 20 years, screening of 8.5 million young athletes would cost between $51 billion and $69 billion -- and save about 4,800 lives. "This money could be put to better use," Viskin said.

There would be another cost: 3.4 million athletes would need to be disqualified to save fewer than 5,000 lives, according to the study's calculations.

An alternative opinion comes from Dr. Antonio Pelliccia, scientific director of the Institute of Sport Medicine and Science in Rome. He wrote a commentary accompanying the study.

Pelliccia said that cardiac screening through an electrocardiogram is "the best medical practice to screen young athletes for cardiac diseases." And, he believes it can be performed far more cheaply than the study suggests.

In Italy, Pelliccia said, an entire health screening for an athlete -- including more than just an electrocardiogram screening -- costs $60, instead of the estimated cost of $263 in the United States. That cost "is clearly prohibitive in the United States, but most likely in all countries over the world," he said.

In Italy, he said, the screening is not performed by cardiologists, although they can be called in if needed. And there's not a risk of a lawsuit based on a physician's decision regarding an athlete's ability to play.

In the commentary, Pelliccia writes that he thinks "competitive athletes (and their families) should be informed regarding the limitations of history and physical examination, and should not be deprived of the opportunity to be screened by [electrocardiogram], if they choose to do it."

The study and commentary appear online Nov. 26 and in the Dec. 4 print issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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