News

Guidant to recall five more defibrillator models

Wall Street did not react positively to news that Guidant is withdrawing an additional five defibrillator models from the US market on concerns of safety issues similar to those which prompted an earlier recall. The affected models are specialized devices classified by most analysts as high-end. Each costs somewhere between $25,000 and $35,000. The news effectively hands the $2.3 billion market for patients with congestive heart failure to rivals Medtronic and St. Jude. There was …

IT: Govt help one way to get docs to use EMRs

Girish Kumar of eClinicalWorks runs a successful business that is emerging as one of the leaders in getting full EMRs into the hands of physicians in small practices. While larger group practices of 25 or even 50 or more doctors are adopting EMRs at a rapid rate, the pace is still relatively slow among the smaller practices, which represent the vast majority of American physicians.

The federal government has been talking about interoperability, but Kumar says it hasn't been paying …

Fla. consumer Rx site causes confusion

A Florida website set up to help residents find cheaper prescription drugs may be doing more harm than good. Critics point out that Florida's website directs those looking for cheaper alternatives for many prescriptions to wholesalers like Kindred Healthcare, which sells only to the long-term care market and not to the general public. That is leading to many misdirected inquiries and a lot of frustration, observers say.

The confusion is being made worse by the fact that the state …

SPOTLIGHT: Study examines cancer myths, conspiracy theories

People, it seems, do not trust their doctors very much anymore. Last week there was news that many Americans still believe that the small amounts of mercury contained in some vaccines causes autism. Now comes a poll which suggests that Americans are equally misinformed about cancer. According to research in this week's issue of the journal Cancer, a majority of Americans think "surgery can spread cancer." About one-quarter believe a cure for cancer has been found, …

ALSO NOTED: More on the mercury-autism link; Medicaid LTC spending questioned; and much more...

> More follow-up reporting on the science of the mercury-autism link. Story

> Changing the "spend-down" and "lookback" periods are touted as solutions for reducing the huge amount spent on long-term care by Medicaid. Story

> Bristol Meyers Squibb and Baylor are teaming up on a $40 million effort …

Editor's Corner


This week there are signs that the next healthcare debate may be just starting. The Center for Studying Health System Change reported that health cost increases were stable but stable at a rate of increase that's three times the rate of inflation. That's just a reminder, as if we needed one, that the rest of the economy is having trouble funding the health benefits of workers and …

Bug in JCAHO software may cost data

The national non-profit hospital accreditation and standards group JCAHO said it has discovered a bug affecting software it distributes to hospitals. According to critics, the bug may cause hospitals to loose some quality control data. Thousands of hospitals around the country use the software to track their progress towards hundreds of different criteria used by the standards and accreditation group. JCAHO informed customers of the problem with a note posted on the organization's website …

BCBS reports pay for performance participation up

Modern Physician reports that Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in 32 states are offering physician pay-for-performance programs, and 14 more are making plans to add them. A survey by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation for Healthcare finds that 68 percent of its primary care physicians and 48 percent of its specialists are enrolled in the program. Good news for supporters of pay-for-performance, not so good for those who still question the merit of the idea.

- see this story from Modern Physician

AARP study backs drug reimportation

A study funded by the politically influential AARP finds that drug reimportation has helped control costs in the European Union. The study recommends that US consumers be allowed to obtain prescription drugs from outside the country. The AARP's Public Policy Institute looked at the legal trade in prescription drugs between wholesalers in the EU and found that "parallel trading," as reimportation is known in Europe, helps keep drug costs under control in countries which allow it. Senators …

Pfizer torcetrib decision second-guessed

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine by Harvard's Jerry Avorn argues that Pfizer's plan to combine Lipitor -- it's blockbuster statin -- with torcetrapib, the new cholesterol-fighting compound developed by the company's researchers, is likely to be bad news for both doctors and patients. Avorn writes that combining the two drugs into one pill as the company plans would have serious ramifications.

"Patients who cannot tolerate (or afford) Lipitor," Avorn …

DEA agents crack down on medical marijuana clinics

Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents launched a series of raids at more than 20 medical marijuana dispensaries in the San Francisco area this week. The busts are likely to reignite debate on the controversial issue, only weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that federal anti-drug statutes take precedence over state drug laws. DEA agents would not say how many people were caught up in the sweep, pending a press conference. Authorities did reveal, however, that they have charged two people …

SPOTLIGHT: 'Elevatorgate' inquiry widens

The Duke University health system said a third hospital in North Carolina is involved in an unusual incident in which surgical instruments were washed in hydraulic fluid left behind by an elevator repair crew. Officials at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center said staff discovered the mistake before any patients were put at risk. More details in the error are emerging. The Washington Post reports that supplier Cardinal Health was involved in shipping the mislabeled vats of …

ALSO NOTED: FDA approves BiDil; VA $1B short on budget; and much more...

> A surprising survey of hospitals in Japan underscores the cultural differences between attitudes regarding end-of-life issues in Asia and the US. Story

> The Food and Drug Administration approved the controversial BiDil, the first race-based medicine to be marketed in the US. …

Medical device database unplugged by Congress

Some time ago a group of orthopedic surgeons had what they thought was a very good idea. Why not take information on knee and hip replacements paid for by the government and collect it in a publicly accessible database? A lot of people thought the idea made sense. After all, that way both patients and doctors would have access to crucial information about how well competing products work. But the plan hasn't gone very far. The New York Times reports that current government …

Calif. plan would reshape hospital finances

California will move nearly 500,00 blind, elderly and disabled residents to managed care in a deal worked out with Washington. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had tried unsuccessfully to get related legislation passed in Sacramento in May. Administration sources said the compromise would give California $3.3 billion more in federal funding for medical care for the state's poor. The news was met with dismay by some patient advocates, who argue the change could hurt the quality of care provided …

Dems introduce 'Wal-Mart' bill

Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John Corzine (D-NJ) introduced legislation yesterday which would require states to report the names of companies which have 50 or more employees receiving government subsidized healthcare. The legislation specifically targets large employers like Wal-Mart, who have drawn heavy criticism from some observers recently for failing to provide benefits for their workers. The lawmakers noted that more than 600,000 of Wal-Mart's 1.2 million employees …

Report: Merck tried to alter Vioxx

The Associated Press is reporting that researchers at Merck were working to change the formulation of the Cox-2 painkiller Vioxx years before the drug was taken off the market. Internal company documents reveal that in March of 2000 researchers began exploring the possibility of combining Vioxx with an agent that would block blood platelets from clotting -- a key to preventing undesirable cardiovascular events -- even as the company insisted its drug was safe.

The new evidence …

HealthSouth execs get light sentences; Scrushy jury back to square one

Prosecutors said they want a review of light sentences handed out to two former HealthSouth executives who pled guilty to participating in the giant fraud at the company. Mike Martin and Richard Botts received $10,000 fines and sentences of home confinement for their role in the conspiracy last year. Prosecutors will ask for jail time for both men. "It's appropriate that they go to jail," said US Attorney Alice Martin.

- see this …

SPOTLIGHT: NJ hospital didn't notify authorities of serial killer

Officials at Somerset Medical Center in New Jersey did not contact the police for more than three months after learning from state poison control officials that "somebody at the hospital was probably killing people." In that time convicted serial killer Charles Cullen killed five additional patients by poisioning them while working as a nurse at the facility. Story

ALSO NOTED: Docs unhappy with defibrillator recall; Cardinal, Lahey ink deal; and much more...

> Many doctors are unhappy about the way Guidant's defibrillator recall is being handled. Most think Guidant should be responsible for informing patients. Story

> Federal agents raided medical marijuana clubs in California and across the country yesterday arresting dozens of people. …