News

Guidant releases another defibrillator warning

Shares in device maker Guidant stumbled slightly this morning as Wall Street heard that the medical device manufacturer had reported new problems affecting its popular defibrillator lines. The company is warning cardiologists that a design flaw, which it describes as "a possible degradation in the hermetic sealing component," may cause serious health risks to patients who have the devices. Some analysts think the news could put "additional pressure" on Johnson & Johnson's plans …

IT: RFID tag stops hospital abduction

Applied Digital, which makes the VeriChip, said that its RFID system helped prevent the abduction of a baby from a North Carolina hospital on Friday. The company says security guards at Presbyterian Hospital thwarted an abduction attempt at the facility's seventh floor maternity ward when the RFID system broadcast an alert. The VeriChip, which Applied Digital had hoped to market to hospitals to help them track patients and prevent surgical errors, has run into serious opposition over the …

SPOTLIGHT: Cardinal plans to market 'talking pill bottle'


Cardinal Health will be marketing a "talking pill bottle" designed to prevent prescription drug errors. The novel sounding idea was developed by MedivoxRx, which FierceHealthcare reported on several months ago. Doctors and pharmacists will able to record messages for patients who might need specialized instructions, particularly those who they think might be easily confused by labeling. "Rex: The Talking Prescription Bottle System" will now compete with "Talking Rx," a rival …

ALSO NOTED: Fears about Fentanyl patch deaths; Focus on health costs for employers; and much more...

> The Food and Drug Administration said it is investigating evidence that the Fentanyl pain patch may have led to more than 100 deaths since its approval. Story

> A new study finds that one-in-four births at US hospitals are to foreign-born mothers. …

Editor's Corner


This week's big news is the continuing consolidation in the health plan market. Pacificare, a big regional California-based HMO, was swallowed by UnitedHealth. Meanwhile, the result of the Wellpoint-Anthem merger has essentially been the coalition of all the for-profit Blues plans. Thus far almost all of these mergers have been plans in different regions merging with each other. But …

NGA summer meeting to focus on Medicaid, preventative health

The summer meeting of the National Governor's Association opens today in Des Moines, Iowa. Incoming Chairman Mike Huckabee of Arkansas is expected to stress healthcare in his term as president of the group. Huckabee, who lost 100 pounds after adopting a healthy lifestyle, and wrote a book called Quit Digging Your Own Grave With Your Knife And Fork, is expected to push for programs which stress preventative healthcare during his tenure. Also on the agenda: a package of proposals …

Opening arguments heard in Vioxx case

Opening arguments were heard yesterday in Ernst v. Merck, the first Vioxx lawsuit to go to trial. A South Texas jury heard plaintiff attorney W. Mark Lanier argue that the drug maker should be held liable for the death of a Texas man who died in his sleep in 2001 after taking the painkiller. In his opening statement, Lanier argued that the death was a consequence of Merck's decision to rush Vioxx to market -- a choice which, according to the lawyer, was ultimately a result of …

Chiron reports contamination problem at European facility

Chiron continued its run of bad luck, reporting this morning that contamination problems at the company's plant in Germany are likely to hurt production of one of its flu vaccines for the upcoming flu season. The company said it probably will only be able to produce 4 million doses of Begrivac rather than the 12 million it had been expected to deliver. The news only affects Chiron's international customers but is expected to increase competition over the remaining global vaccine …

NIH review finds 44 violations

The National Institutes of Health announced that 44 government scientists who work for the agency have violated conflict of interest rules that bar them from working too closely with drug companies and medical device manufacturers. NIH began the review several months ago on the request of Congress after evidence emerged of a pattern of improper conduct involving government scientists over the past few years. The Los Angeles Times ran a series of stories earlier this year exposing …

IT: HHS asks for AHIC nominations

The Department of Health and Human Services has issued an official request for nominations for the American Health Information Community (AHIC), the public-private entity which will develop standards and work to develop a national approach to the vaunted goal of interoperability. The committee will work to push the healthcare industry toward more efficient and more reliable technologies, a goal which supporters argue will save the industry millions of dollars. The committee will include …

SPOTLIGHT: Worried ER docs use defensive medicine


A new study by researchers at the University of Iowa confirms that emergency physicians worried about malpractice suits routinely order tests for patients complaining of chest pains and other symptoms of heart problems, even if they they fall into low-risk categories. Researchers ranked ER docs by their degree of fear of malpractice suits by having them complete a survey. Those who fell into the group most worried about being sued were more likely to order extra tests or admit a patient for observation. Story

ALSO NOTED: Rost bites Pfizer's feeding hand again; HCA selling rural hospitals; and much more...

> Pfizer's dissident executive Peter Rost will give evidence against pharma companies accused of conspiring to control prices in the US by keeping Canadian drugs out of the market. Story

> The California insurance commissioner may look into the United-Pacificare deal. …

UnitedHealth reports 38% gain in profit

UnitedHealth Group posted glowing second-quarter results yesterday, delivering a 38 percent increase in profit. Analysts are largely happy with company's recently announced plans to exploit the consumer-driven health trend, praising its decision to pursue an $8 billion merger with PacifiCare. Expansion into the key California market is seen as the company's most logical move to confront WellPoint, currently the largest managed care provider in the country with a membership of 28.3 …

Asthma drugs can stay on market;painkiller withdrawn

An FDA advisory panel recommended yesterday that three popular asthma drugs be allowed to remain on the market, despite some evidence linking them to serious health risks in a few instances. The specialist panel said that the benefits that Advair, Servent and Fidil provide far outweighs any risks associated with the drugs. The panel did, however, suggest adding a warning label for Fidil, which is made by Novartis, to inform patients of possible health risks.

A seperate FDA review …

Medical device monitoring network runs short on funding

Despite well-publicized problems, such as Guidant's defibrillator recall last month, the government is putting plans to expand a computer network intended to provide advance warning of potential problems with medical devices on hold. The FDA had proposed expanding the MedSun network, which monitors data on stents, defibrillators and pacemakers. Now officals are saying those plans will have to wait. Advocates say that isn't a particularly good idea, especially in light of recent problems. …

Group wants warning labels for soft drinks

The Center for Science in the Public Interest wants the FDA to require manufacturers to place warning labels on soft drink cans. The non-profit watchdog group says excessive consumption of soft drinks is a leading cause of obesity among young Americans. CSPI wants the words "Drinking too much non-diet soda may contribute to weight gain" printed on cans. The group's Washington rival, The Center for Consumer Freedom, which is funded by the food and restaurant industries, fought back …

IT: Montana Center plans NHIN bid

Government Health IT reports that a Montana organization has joined forces with a North Carolina consulting group, Physicians EHR, to bid on one of the eight prototype National Health Information Network (NHIN) contracts recently announced by the Department of Health and Human Services. The National Center for Health Care Informatics at Montana Tech argues Montana is a good location for a test network because of its distance from Washington and the needs of its largely rural population.

- see this story from Government Health IT

SPOTLIGHT: Health officials promote Medicare Rx benefit


Centers for Medicare and Medicaid chief Dr. Mark McCellan and other top federal health officials launched a three-state trip through New England to promote the new Medicare Part D benefit, which goes into effect in January. McClellan is accompanied by Surgeon General Richard Carmona, Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health. Story

ALSO NOTED: Topol warns on heart drug; King/Drew docs are well paid; and much more...

> Federal prosecutors say they will not bring perjury charges against Richard Scrushy. The SEC charges against him are not affected. Story (Wall Street Journal sub. req.)

> Respected cardiologist Eric J. Topol writes that Natracor should be off the market in a commentary in this week's New England Journal of Medicine. …

FDA panel weighs withdrawing asthma drugs

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee made up of 14 lung specialists meets today to decide if three popular asthma medicines are safe enough to remain on the market. The drugs under consideration are Advair and Serevent, both made by GlaxoSmithKline, and Foradil, made by Novartis but marketed in the US by Schering Plough. All three have been linked to "severe asthma exacerbations" in a small number of patients. The manufacturers involved are expected to present data showing …