A new study in the journal Circulation indicates that limiting the use of drug-coated stents to certain patients is cost efficient (no kidding!) and, more importantly, did not increase the risk of death or a heart attack.

The study was led by Dr. David J. Cohen, the director of cardiovascular research at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart and Vascular Institute in Kansas City, Mo. It was paid for by drug makers Millennium Pharmaceuticals and Schering Plough Inc.

Stents are tiny metal mesh struts that prop open clogged arteries after being inserted into the body in a minimally invasive procedure. When coated with drugs, the artery is less likely to reclog. It has been a blockbuster product for Boston Scientific, less so for Medtronic.

I found the timing of this study interesting, since persistent questions about alleged overuse of drug-coated stents (which are about twice the cost of plain old bare-metal stents) have dogged the med-tech industry for some time now.

Researchers compared use of drug-coated stents in 2004 to 2006 to use in 2007 using a registry of 10,144 patients.

Of course, Boston Sci's onetime blockbuster, the Taxus stent, was approved by the FDA in 2004. And in 2007, use of the product slowed considerably after several studies indicated a higher risk of potentially deadly blood clots.

"Because of the safety concerns, we were able to verify what many of us had suspected – that using drug-eluting stents in virtually all patients is not that efficient," Cohen said in a statement.

After 2007, drug-coated stents were more likely implanted in patients who were at the highest risk for arteries reclogging.

This more-selective use of stents reduced health care costs by an average of $401 per patient, saving the U.S. health care system about $00 million a year, according to the study.

Janet Moore covers medical technology for the Star Tribune.