Kaiser Health News: Further Steps To Guard Against ‘Shameful’ Amputations

Thank you for drawing much-needed attention to disparities in unnecessary limb amputations for communities of color (“Diabetic Amputations A ‘Shameful Metric’ Of Inadequate Care,” May 1). While I applaud your article’s focus on diabetes, understanding related diseases like peripheral artery disease (PAD) is just as important.

As a limb salvage specialist in the Mississippi Delta, I know firsthand that African American patients with diabetes are over three times more likely to have their limbs surgically removed — with even higher rates in Mississippi. Sadly, a majority of the estimated 200,000 annual non-traumatic amputations —many stemming from PAD, a complication of diabetes –– can be avoided with the proper care.

Tragically, even though PAD is as serious as cancer, more than 90% of the amputees I have met have never had a diagnostic test for PAD or an appropriate vascular evaluation to salvage their limbs. Most have never even heard of PAD until it is too late.

To stop these troubling trends in my community, I created a team to aggressively screen, diagnose and treat each one of our 10,000 patients early and often. With no institutional or outside financial support, our practice was able to decrease PAD-related amputation rates in the region by 87.5%.

More must be done on the federal level to address America’s “amputation lottery.” The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), for example, should change its recommendation for screening at-risk patients including racial and ethnic minorities and low socioeconomic populations who have a disproportionately higher prevalence of PAD and amputation rates. The current recommendation makes the USPSTF complicit in perpetuating current PAD-related amputation disparities in treatment and outcomes.

There also needs to be broad adoption of non-amputation treatment measures such as revascularization in all algorithms for wounds to heal properly before amputation is ever needed. Finally, policymakers should advance a comprehensive strategy that combines increased public awareness, robust screening and better access to multidisciplinary care for at-risk populations. Together, these steps could go far in reducing limb loss, especially among minority communities.

— Dr. Foluso Fakorede, co-chair of the PAD Initiative for the Association of Black Cardiologists and CEO of Cardiovascular Solutions of Central Mississippi, Cleveland, Miss.

Click here to see the article on the Kaiser Health News website.