News

Baylor pathologist: Vioxx not to blame in Ernst death

Most media reports have suggested that Merck is not faring well in the wrongful death suit over Vioxx after two weeks of testimony generally hostile to the drug maker. But now the drug company gets its turn, as Merck lawyers introduce witnesses of their own. On Monday, the head of pathology at the Baylor College of Medicine testified that he does not think Vioxx was to blame for the death of Robert Ernst in 2001. Dr. Thomas Wheeler said he thinks hardened arteries, not Vioxx, were …

SPOTLIGHT: NY Presbyterian decision support program

Doctors in the New York Presbyterian Hospital system will use a new artificial intelligence-based database system which recommends suggested courses of treatment based on previous patient outcomes. Unlike many CPOE systems, which generally rely on rules-based decision making, the New York Presbyterian system, called the Patient Health Monitor Project, uses an inferencing algorithm designed by a resident physician. Story

ALSO NOTED: Quest buys LabOne; Natrecor panel continues to intervene; and much more...

> Lab giant Quest Diagnostics bought LabOne, the sixth-largest lab company, for $984 million. Analysts say the No. 1 rated company in the medical laboratory sector hopes to dominate the market for personalized medicine. Story

> The FDA is expected to issue much anticipated new rules covering the controversial "morning after" pill by the end of the month. …

Calif. prescription drug initiative examined

The Associated Press examines the battle over two ballot measures in the upcoming November 8 special election in California, each of which purports to contain rising prescription drug prices. Proposition 79, which is sponsored by consumer groups and unions, would give the uninsured price breaks and ban drug makers from selling to the state Medicaid program under certain conditions. Significantly, the initiative would also allow Californians to sue drug companies for "illegal …

Modern Healthcare ranks top Health IT consultants

Modern Healthcare has released its annual survey of healthcare consultants ranked by their healthcare practice revenue for 2004. Coming in at No. 1 is Deloitte with $830 million in revenue. Following close behind are Accenture ($800 million) and CapGemini ($750 million). Not surprisingly, many analysts see the most significant deal of the year in the consulting space is Accenture's purchase of CapGemini, which created a consulting titan with $1.5 billion in combined revenues. The recent …

Med Tech: Kaiser Permanente program trains technologists

While shortages of doctors and nurses in the healthcare system gain a lot of media play, they are by no means the only problem area. The shortage of skilled technologists is a significant issue as well. The San Jose Mercury News examines a program at Kaiser Permanente which trains the health system's lab techs in-house. The Kaiser Permanente School of Health Sciences offers certificates in radiography, nuclear medicine, phlebotomy and several other specialties.

- see this …

Sanofi-Pasteur vaccine may offer protection from bird flu

An experimental vaccine produced by drug maker Sanofi-Pasteur has shown strong promise in protecting recipients from the HN51 virus, also known as the avian flu. A limited clinical trial conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the French drug maker found the vaccine produced a strong immune response in the patients who were given it. Experts say the development is a major step in the fight to prevent a catastrophic outbreak of the virus, which worst case …

Merck seen as 'behind' in first Vioxx trial

Many legal observers say testimony in the first half of the Ernst v. Merck trial has favored the plaintiff, a development which could be an ominous sign for the drug maker. The New York Times reports that after a bumpy start, plaintiff attorney W. Mark Lanier seems to be making progress in winning over the jury in the case. The evidence presented in the case appears to have bolstered Lanier's argument that Vioxx was responsible for the death of Robert Ernst. The occasionally …

SPOTLIGHT: Drug researchers accused of selling inside info

A Seattle Times investigation has found "scores" of cases where doctors have sold investors access to information about ongoing clinical trials in violation of SEC rules. Researchers at top institutions "from UCLA to the University of Pennsylvania" are implicated. This morning, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R -Iowa) called for an SEC inquiry. Investigation | Grassley's response

ALSO NOTED: Allergies have doubled since the 1970s; More on the PhRMA DTC rules; and much more...

> Researchers at the National Institutes of Health report that the number of Americans with allergies has doubled since the 1970s. Story

> The Washington Post writes that the Pentagon has drawn up new plans calling for "unprecedented military involvement" in domestic emergency response and crisis management in the event of attacks on the mainland US. …

Editor's Corner


This week two studies confirmed that employment based health insurance, or the lack of it, is becoming a political issue. Harris Interactive's poll of employees (reported in FierceHealthcare today) shows that American workers continue to view health insurance as a crucial employee benefit. In addition, while they perceive other aspects of compensation such as pay to be …

Employees want health coverage from employers

A new poll conducted by Harris Interactive looks at the attitudes of American workers toward their health coverage and finds that if forced to make a choice, most would forego a raise rather than lose access to employer-provided benefits. Sixty-one percent of respondents with employer-provided insurance said they would "choose to have no pay increase but maintain their current health insurance benefit." Forty-two percent said their benefits have "gotten worse over the last two or …

China reconsiders healthcare privatization

Plans to privatize the Chinese healthcare system -- considered a potential blockbuster market by many observers -- appeared to hit a snag this week with the release of a report critical of the country's move toward a free market for healthcare services. Following the release of a critical World Bank Report earlier this week, China's Health Minister admits recent changes to the system have led to unexpected problems. Minister Gao Qiang says private hospitals are charging patients …

Cardinal Health reports poor Q4 results

Despite hitting an all-time high in revenue for the fourth quarter, Cardinal Health reported a loss, with earnings down 27 percent. The Dublin, Ohio-based company says costs related to its restructuring plan are to blame. Cardinal launched an ambitious three-year reorganization, announcing plans to lay off nearly 5,000 workers and move to a fee-for-service business model.

- see the …

HIT: Auto supplier portal moves into healthcare

A web portal set up by the big three auto makers is now offering healthcare. Covisint, which was formed by DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors to establish a web portal for their suppliers, said yesterday that it has signed Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan as its first healthcare customer. CompuWare acquired the joint project in 2004 from the automakers for an undisclosed sum. The Michigan healthcare market is historically closely watched by analysts. GM alone has …

HIT: Cerner signs military to services contract

In its first major deal of the quarter, Cerner announced that it has signed a 10-year contract with the US Army to provide medical records software to 100 army hospitals and 400 clinics around the world. The Kansas City-based company said the deal is the largest laboratory technology deal it has yet signed. The Army said the deal could be worth $51 million over the next decade. Cerner stock hit a 52-week high of $79.73 on Thursday, although it's slightly lower now.

- see …

SPOTLIGHT: Texas AG clamps down on health cards

The Texas attorney general froze the assets of two Houston companies which sell health "discount" cards, saying they are taking advantage of people desperate to acquire insurance. Family Health and Family Care/NAPP charge monthly fees of up to $100 per family. Texas says the two companies promised customers savings of between 20 percent and 80 percent on medical care, a claim with little basis in fact. Many consumers appear to have believed the coverage they were purchasing was insurance. Story

ALSO NOTED: LA wants to close part of King/Drew; EDS gets CMS contract; and much more...

> In a twist guaranteed to ignite controversy, health officials in Los Angeles say they want to close the pediatrics, obstetrics and neonatology wards at King/Drew Medical Center. Story

> Trial watchers in the Ernst v. Merck case say the drug company's lawyers may have overdone their cross examination of Carol Ernst yesterday. …

Consultant admits it knew of problems at King/Drew

Navigant, the hospital management specialist which took over the management of day-to-day operations at troubled Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles, has admitted it failed to inform regulators of two serious incidents at the hospital. The Los Angeles Times reports that officials at the consulting company have admitted that they learned of the incidents -- one of which involved the death of a patient after nurses failed to respond to a bed side alarm -- but did …

UK case brings attention to NHS wait times, international surgery

A case in the UK involving a woman who has decided to take her son to India for surgery rather than endure a long wait with the National Health Service is drawing media attention. Elliot Knot, who suffered a serious back injury in January while ice skating, was told by NHS doctors that he would have to wait another nine months for his operation. After learning that surgery at a private hospital would be prohibitively expensive, his mother decided to fly him to India. The incident comes in …