Summa Health System is rolling out a new community screening program for people who want to find out their risk for a heart attack or stroke.
The Akron-area hospital system recently launched a partnership with HealthFair, a Florida-based company that offers mobile cardiovascular screenings in communities across the country.
Through the agreement, HealthFair brings a bus equipped with ultrasound machines and echocardiogram units to parking lots of grocery stores, discount chains and other locations throughout the region.
Consumers pay $179 for the cardiovascular screening, which uses non-invasive tests to look for signs of potentially life-threatening heart problems, abdominal aortic aneurysms and stroke. A lifestyle screening and blood test for cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose levels also is offered for another $99.
Hospitals typically would charge closer to $2,300 for the cardiovascular screening tests, according to a Summa spokesperson.
“Often, cardiovascular disease can be silent for quite a while,” said Dr. Joseph McShannic, Summa’s chief of vascular surgery. “Once it becomes symptomatic, it can be very bad.”
HealthFair Chief Executive James Ekbatani got the idea to start the company in Florida in 1998 after having a stroke when he was 40.
“Finding stroke and cardiac disease became more than just a business but a personal mission for me,” he said. “If you have no symptoms, there’s no warning.”
The company operates 17 mobile screening units nationwide, with plans to increase to 50 units within the next two years, Ekbatani said.
HealthFair says it’s the only mobile screening company accredited by the Joint Commission, a group that certifies hospitals and other health-care facilities nationwide.
The company forms affiliations with hospitals in the communities they serve, Ekbatani said. The arrangement gives partner hospitals a way to bring services to potential patients without the expense of purchasing the equipment.
For HealthFair, he said, the hospital partnerships provide name recognition in communities, as well as a local referral resource if serious problems are detected.
As part of the relationship, HealthFair has a doctor from the participating hospital on call if a serious problem is discovered.
Ekbatani estimates 1 percent of patients screened have life-threatening problems, and about 40 percent have less-serious problems that still need follow-up.
The participating health systems help pay for advertising to promote the screenings, Ekbatani said. HealthFair bills patients for the services.
Summa was considering beginning its own mobile cardiovascular screening program but opted to join with HealthFair as a more cost-effective alternative, McShannic said.
Ekbatani said HealthFair invests about $750,00 for its newest mobile units, which also have mammography units as well as the cardiovascular screening equipment. The results are read by board-certified cardiologists or cardiovascular specialists with HealthFair and shared with patients and their doctors.
People sign up for the screenings in advance through a dedicated website (www.summahealthfair.com) or by calling HealthFair (855-812-8378).
“Think of it as a self-contained mobile medical clinic that goes to different communities and provides access,” Ekbatani said.
However, not all health-care providers embrace the community cardiovascular screening concept.
Dr. David Frid, a staff cardiologist in preventive cardiology and rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic, said most of the tests included in these types of direct-to-consumer cardiovascular screenings “are not recommended in asymptomatic patients.”
“Most of those findings are not clinically important and often lead to additional testing that may not be useful,” he said.
Rather than offering community cardiovascular screenings, the Cleveland Clinic has appointments with preventive cardiologists, who meet with patients to review history and risk factors to determine which tests are needed.
An abdominal aortic aneurysm screening with ultrasound is recommended for men 65 to 75 with a history of smoking or people 60 and older with a family history of the condition, Frid said.
Summa is targeting people 45 or older, smokers, patients with high blood pressure or those with a family history of cardiovascular disease for the screenings because those are the individuals at higher risk, McShannic said.
If minor problems are discovered during a screening, he said, the patients can work with their physicians to quit smoking, control their cholesterol levels or make other lifestyle changes to prevent significant disease.
“Those are the people who, short term, we’re going to be able to make a big impact,” he said. “It’s getting the word out, and it’s taking it to the people. If we can identify this sooner, that’s really the goal here.”
James Beebe, 66, of Brimfield went to a recent Summa-sponsored screening event in a store parking lot in Tallmadge after seeing an ad about the event.
He said he was prompted to go after a relative went through a similar screening and discovered a serious problem.
“I realized there’s some real value to it,” he said.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.