News

Harvard Project to share tissue samples

Four Boston hospitals affiliated with Harvard Medical School have set up a database project designed to help researchers catalog and share tissue samples.  Information on 1 million tissue samples taken from cancer patients has been uploaded so far. The project's goal is to speed research by increasing the pool of samples available for study. Organizers said they hope to expand the system to include the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Pittsburgh, and the …

SPOTLIGHT: Wis. group to share claims data

In an experiment likely to create controversy, the Wisconsin Health Information Organization said it will pool data on healthcare costs in the state. Four managed care companies participating in the effort will share claims data. Supporters say the idea will help cut costs and improve quality. Doctors and hospitals often resist such studies, arguing there is no evidence they are reliable. Article

ALSO NOTED: HighMark selects Allscripts for PA project;Britain's flu vaccine running out; and much more...

> Commentary: With demand for transplants increasing, is it reasonable to legalize the sale of organs? Article

>  The British government admits there will be a flu vaccine shortage this year. Article

> HighMark said it has chosen AllScripts for its $25 …

Physicians protest cuts in reimbursement rates

The Bush administration is expected to publish a final rule that would reduce doctors Medicare reimbursement rates by 4.4 percent today. The cuts are strongly opposed by doctors' groups, led by the AMA. Critics argue the change unfairly penalizes doctors and warn that it could lead some to stop accepting new Medicare patients. In the past, Congress has passed legislation repealing similar cuts. Observers say the proposed rule sets the stage for a political fight in Washington, likely to …

Wired for Health Care Quality Act examined

The Wired for Health Care Quality Act, passed late last week, grants government support to an interoperable national system of health records and supports funding for electronic medical records projects. Privacy groups are complaining that the legislation contains no provisions to protect the right of patients to determine who has access to their records. The Associated Press reports that 10,000 Americans now have online personal health records--probably a low guess.

- see this article from USA Today

Japan to publish data on adverse events

Following reports of adverse events possibly related to Tamiflu, the Japanese Health Ministry said it will release information about the safety of prescription drugs. Starting in January, the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency will publish detailed data on all of the reports it receives on adverse events caused by prescription drugs and medical devices on a Web site. The agency already publishes limited data on some events. Assuming the plan goes forward, the reporting initiative …

HHS: Influenza vaccine supply insufficient

According to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, the US does not have the production capacity to make enough flu vaccine to guard against a pandemic. Leavitt, together with the CDC's Dr. Julie Gerberding, the NIH's Dr. Anthony Fauci and the WHO's Dr. Michael Ryan, appeared on NBC's Meet the Press to discuss the influenza threat. Leavitt cautioned that it will be at least three years before the US has the ability to protect its entire population.

- see this …

FDA warns on asthma drugs

The FDA is recommending warning label changes for three commonly prescribed asthma medicines, saying they can make the disease worse over time and lead to possibly fatal attacks. The agency wants new warnings on Severent, Advair and Foradil, three drugs used by asthma patients for the long-term maintenance of the condition. The news is a blow for British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Advair. Sales of the drug were $4.7 billion in 2004.

- see this …

SPOTLIGHT: NY awaits release of hospital ratings


A New York state commission will release data on its hospitals as part of an inquiry into the state's hospital industry. The ratings process is being closely watched by hospital executives across the industry who fear low scores could hurt business. Article | Web site

ALSO NOTED: IBM distributes computing effort to help fight AIDS; Increase in employer healthcare costs slowing; and much more..

> IBM announced a major distributed computing effort designed to help fight AIDS. Article

> The rate of increase in employer healthcare costs slowed to 6.1 percent in 2005. The trend reflects the growing tendency among employers to pass health care cost along to workers. …

Editor's Corner


This week the most convoluted program in the history of Medicare began. I've heard comments from friends, neighbors and people in the press saying that they can't make heads or tails of the new drug benefit.

Whether you like it or loathe it, there are some interesting parts of the Medicare Modernization Act, including the HSA provision and the disease management provisions. …

In close vote, House rejects health spending measure

In a surprise decision, the House of Representatives rejected a health and education spending measure in a close (224-208) vote yesterday. The $142.5 billion plan included $900 million in cuts to healthcare services. Democrats and some Republicans who voted against the bill said they objected to provisions  which would have cut funding for the CDC and reduced aid to low income victims of Hurricane Katrina. Some observers see the unwillingness of moderate Republicans to vote …

In-hospital WiFi now used to track people, equipment

Now that cell phones and WiFi have been proven safe and essential for healthcare facilities, there's a race to get signals into those buildings. This has some interesting possibilities, but it is also causing some technical challenges to hospital technology managers. Frequently, buildings are too dense to allow strong cell phone signals, while increased demand for WiFi and VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) is putting pressure on the ad-hoc WiFi networks being built in many …

Senate passes Health IT legislation

In a unanimous vote, the Senate passed the Wired for Health Care Quality Act (S.1418), legislation that would increase federal funding for healthcare IT. The legislation, which has enjoyed broad bipartisan support, grants official recognition to Dr. David Brailer's Office of the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology and authorizes spending on health IT projects. Some critics have charged the bill doesn't go far enough, reasoning that government spending must be increased …

Alvarado Medical Center case goes to jury

In San Diego, the jury is out in a closely-watched case involving Tenet's Alvarado Medical Center. Federal prosecutors accuse the hospital of violating federal kickback statutes by paying relocation bonuses to out-of-state doctors. The hospital and former chief executive Barry Weinbaum both face charges in the case. Tenet continues to insist it did nothing wrong, and that the incentives were necessary to attract physicians to San Diego at a time when real estate prices in the area were …

FDA probing deaths linked to Avian Flu drug

The FDA said it is investigating 12 deaths linked to the antiviral Tamiflu. According to authorities in Japan, the drug is linked to a number of adverse events and could be a factor in two suicides in Japan. An FDA spokesperson said the agency is not yet requiring any label changes, but may warn against a skin reaction caused by the drug. Maker Roche issued a statement saying no there is no evidence of any dangerous link.

- see this article from The New York Times

SPOTLIGHT: Emdeon cuts 2006 forecast, Tony Holcombe resigns


More problems at Emdeon as the company (the former dot-com known as WebMD) reports president Tony Holcombe will leave to pursue "other business opportunities." The company also revised its forecast downward for 2006. Although Emdeon is largely focused on its content business, it also offers a relatively popular Web-based claims service for physicians. Article

ALSO NOTED: Chutes & Ladders: Triad CFO steps down to join HMA; Cerner sets new highs on Oracle rumors; and much more...

> Shares in Cerner were up sharply, rising over $96.50 before dipping in late morning trading. Rumors of interest on the part of Oracle persist. Article

> Chutes & Ladders: The CFO at Triad Hospitals said he is moving on while a major research group has downgraded the company to neutral. Burke Whitman jumps to rival Health Management Associates.  …

Report assesses economic impact of hospital-acquired infections

The latest in a series of reports by a Pennsylvania agency charged with monitoring hospital safety finds that hospital-acquired infections in the state cost taxpayers and insurers more than $1 billion last year alone. According to the report, in 2004 Medicare faced $1 billion in extra costs related to infections, and insurers were billed an additional $603.8 million. Pennsylvania is one of only a few states that require hospitals to report infections. The local hospital association is …

HHS announces digital records initiative for Gulf states

The Department of Health and Human Services announced a new initiative that will fund two programs in Gulf states hit by Hurricane Katrina. HHS will work with the Southern Governor's Association and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals to modernize the information technology infrastructure in areas impacted by the disaster. As part of the initiative, Louisiana will develop its own health information sharing and electronic health record system. Supporters of electronic medical …