Among apparently healthy individuals, this risk score can help physicians identify which patients have higher risk, as well as those who they should focus further time and effort. The score also gives physicians excellent confidence in identifying low-risk individuals who don't need as much attention or costly testing. —Benjamin Horne
MURRAY — Intermountain Medical Center researchers may have found a way to detect potentially lethal health problems with a blood test.
The test, called a complete blood count panel, calculates patients' risk of developing certain diseases that would reduce the length of their life. It measures for factors such as hemoglobin, red and white blood cells, and platelet counts.
The test is fairly common in medical practice so patients would not have to pay more for the results, according to Benjamin Horne, Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute's director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology.
Intermountain and Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston worked together on the JUPITER study.
Representatives from Intermountain Medical Center presented their findings at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions on Tuesday in Dallas. Researchers also presented findings correlating red blood cell size difference with depression, and a study that linked body mass index levels in Type 2 diabetes patients with the risk of heart disease.
Doctors have long used complete blood count tests, but before the JUPITER study did not know they could extract information from healthy individuals to measure life expectancy, Intermountain Medical Center spokesman Jess Gomez said.
"Among apparently healthy individuals, this risk score can help physicians identify which patients have higher risk, as well as those who they should focus further time and effort. The score also gives physicians excellent confidence in identifying low-risk individuals who don't need as much attention or costly testing," Horne said.
The study looked at complete blood count information collected during the JUPITER trial, a study measuring the effects of rosuvastatin, a drug that lowers cholesterol.
More than 17,000 people from 26 countries participated and were monitored for up to five years. Those in the study did not have a history of cardiovascular disease and had average cholesterol levels. They all had high levels of C-reactive protein, which has been linked to heart disease.
Harvard researchers found a connection between mortality rates and complete blood count risk scores generated by Intermountain scientists.
Those in the study who had a lower risk score had lower mortality rates, while those with midlevel scores had a 50 percent greater possibility of death, and those at the high end of the scale had twice the likelihood of death over those with low scores.
Doctors often shy away from risk scores because they are often intricate and time-consuming, Gomez said.
However, the complete blood count risk score and predecessor Intermountain Risk Score, which combines the complete blood count test and a basic metabolic profile blood test developed by Intermountain researchers, offer health information that is easily accessible for physicians.
"One of the beauties of this score is it uses clinically familiar, standardized medical information already in electronic format. The financial cost is also almost zero because most patients already receive the (complete blood count) test," Horne said.
"The clinical cost is also low because of electronic medical records. Physicians receive this critical information about future risk, which adds to their knowledge about the patient, while it takes very little of their time or effort to obtain the information," he added.
Intermountain Medical Center researchers have embarked on a possible random clinical trial that will give physicians the complete blood count score for half of their patients who are not hospitalized. This will help determine whether treatment improves when doctors are aware of their patients' risk scores.