News

Split in organized labor may impact hospitals

The much-publicized split in organized labor is beginning to be felt in the healthcare industry. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) left the AFL-CIO three weeks ago after relations between the two reached an all-time low. SEIU president Andy Stern says labor unions have become "complacent" and "not radical enough." That kind of talk, of course, makes healthcare executives just a little nervous. Labor disputes remain a fact of life for American hospitals, even in an age …

HIT: FDA requires Accutane patients to enroll in registry

In the latest evidence that the Food and Drug Administration is ratcheting up its enforcement posture, the agency announced that it will require all patients taking the acne drug Accutane to enroll in a computer registry so that health officials can track their progress and watch for any potential side effects of the drug. Critics allege the drug, which is made by Hoffman LaRoche, carries a risk of increased suicidal behavior and can in some cases lead to birth …

Jennings' death puts spotlight on lung cancer test

The death of Peter Jennings from lung cancer last week has led to a surge of public interest and media coverage for the dreaded disease. All of the attention has renewed interest in a test which can sometimes detect the disease while it is still treatable. Supporters argue that the spiral, or helial, scan test can detect tumors while they are still extremely small; but a high false positive rate leaves many doctors and associations uncomfortable with the procedure. The National Cancer …

Pivotal week in Vioxx trial

As arguments in the first Vioxx trial come to a close, legal observers think the outcome of the wrongful death lawsuit against Merck is likely to hinge on the instructions the judge gives to the jury. If they think Vioxx was to blame for the death of Robert Ernst, jurors will now have to decide if Vioxx alone was responsible or if it was a "contributing factor." Plaintiff attorney W. Mark Lanier argues it is enough for the drug to have been a "contributor." Merck attorneys counter that …

SPOTLIGHT: Group physicians see income rise in 2004


After several years of level numbers, group practice physicians in most specialties saw modest gains in compensation in 2004, the American Medical Group Association said. Most specialties saw gains at or above the rate of inflation, led by the primary care specialties. According to the organization, the specialties seeing the largest percentage increases in compensation were: general surgery (8.89 percent), pediatrics and adolescents (8.76 percent), and hematology and oncology (8.52 percent). Story

ALSO NOTED: Medical researcher probe backed by Boston Globe; Rx dispensing loophole to be closed in Calif.; and much more...

> The Boston Globe editorial board seconds Rep. Charles Grassley's (R-Iowa) call for an investigation into Wall Street payoffs for medical researchers. Op-Ed

> HIT: The Los Angeles Times looks at automated drug dispensers, which are starting to appear in some retail pharmacies to replace the "will call" draw. …

Editor's Corner


This was the week that even President Bush noticed that healthcare costs have been a drag on the economy. At the moment what passes for health policy in the US is a combination of a half-hearted expansion of Medicaid programs in the states, a complex and confusing drug benefit for seniors, and the steady decline in employer-based health insurance, the source for coverage for most …

Team at UNC said to achieve HIV breakthrough

A team at the University of North Carolina said it may have made the most significant breakthrough in the war against HIV/AIDS since the development of the therapeutic cocktail which first slowed the ravages of the disease more than a decade ago. Scientists said they were able to significantly intensify the effect of an existing cocktail on latent HIV infections by combining it with valproic acid, which is used to treat epilepsy patients. The research was published in today's issue of the …

Zanamavir said to be effective against HN51

Researchers in Asia published a paper which criticizes western governments for not sharing access to drugs which can guard against the avian flu and said that the drug Zanamavir should be stockpiled in case of a possible pandemic. Writing in the Lancet, the group argues that experts have been overly conservative in ruling out the antiviral Zanamavir, which is marketed by GlaxoSmithKline as Relenza. Until now, most experts have argued that Oseltamivir, sold by Roche as Tamiflu, is …

Impact of public access to Calif. hospital charge sheets examined

About a month ago, hospitals in California were required to turn over digital copies of their charge sheets to the state in electronic form. The deadline is a result of a new state transparency law that went in effect in 2004, requiring hospitals to disclose their prices to customers. California residents can now obtain a CD-ROM containing the data for $10 from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. As anyone who's seen a hospital bill might guess, apparently customers …

NY releases 9/11 first responder transcripts

Four years after the fact, officials in New York City released tens of thousands of documents detailing the September 11 terrorist attacks on lower Manhattan, following a judge's order. The New York Times published excerpts of the material online, leading to a wave of curious web traffic which slowed the newspaper's site to a crawl. The records include thousands of hours of recorded interviews with New York City firefighters and medical personnel, as well as the full transcripts …

HIT: Cerner hits another 52-week high

In time, the electronic health revolution may completely change the face of modern medicine, saving thousands of lives from preventable medical errors and increasing efficiencies to the point that out-of-control healthcare costs are finally brought back in line. In the last couple of years, however, the biggest beneficiaries have been the companies at heart of that transformation.

None have been as closely followed by Wall Street as Cerner, the Kansas City-based software company …

SPOTLIGHT: Tex. minorities now majority


There is already abundant discussion of immigration and uninsurance issues, and now US census data released on Wednesday shows that Texas has become the fourth state in which a minority of the population has officially become a majority. Official records show the state's population is now 52.2 percent Hispanic. Texas joins California, New Mexico and Hawaii as the only states to attain what demographers term "minority-majority" status. Some critics feel the real numbers may be skewed …

ALSO NOTED: Daou Systems sold;Hospital employees cannot afford insurance; and much more...

> Northern Virginia-based Proxicom said it would pay $20 million to pick up struggling health IT consultant Daou Systems. Story

> A new study released by the Center for Policy Initiatives concludes that some employees at Children's Hospital of San Diego are unable to afford employer subsidized insurance. …

Pfizer announces DTC changes

Pfizer said it will change the way it markets its prescription drugs in response to recent criticism of industry practices. The company announced that it would comply with new industry guidelines announced last week and add a few wrinkles of its own. Perhaps most significantly, Pfizer says it will wait six months after a drug is approved before launching any new ad campaigns. The company will use that time to educate doctors about the advantages -- and any possible risks -- involved with …

SEC examines sale of data by medical researchers

The Securities and Exchange Commission has launched an investigation following this weekend's Seattle Times story detailing cases in which doctors involved in clinical trials sold investors access to information about their research. The development follows a call for an investigation on Monday by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). The article revealed 26 cases in which doctors were paid as much as $300 to $500 an hour to disclose details of their …

NEJM looks at terrorism response in London

The New England Journal of Medicine offers a series of articles by British doctors detailing their experiences during last month's bomb attacks on the London Underground. The suicide attacks, which killed 56 people and injured about 700,  offer valuable lessons for both first responders and healthcare providers, write doctors Ryan and Montgomery. While the attacks were not unexpected, their scope and timing created logistical challenges. Doctors treating victims also had to …

Merck scientist defends Vioxx research

The head of clinical trials at Merck denied that the drug company manipulated its research to make the painkiller Vioxx appear safe in testimony on Wednesday in the company's first civil trial. Dr. Alise Reicin said Merck played by the rules in the tests leading up to the drug's introduction. Confronted with an email she wrote in 1997 which suggested that researchers exclude patients who had suffered heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems from a trial, Reicin explained that her …

HIT: Siemens contract with Fla. hospital criticized

The Miami Herald writes in an editorial that a $70 million contract between Siemens Medical Systems and troubled Jackson Memorial Medical Center raises disturbing questions and the "appearance of conflict of interest." The paper questions the role in the deal played by Jackson Memorial CFO Frank Barrett and notes that the "lack of specificity in the numbers and of transparency preceding the selection of Siemens is worrisome."

- see this Op-Ed from the Miami Herald

SPOTLIGHT: Low-fat diet helps in cancer fight

A new study appears to back supporters of the popular belief that an "ultra" low-fat diet can be a weapon in the fight against cancer. Research by health and wellness guru Dr. Dean Ornish, which appears in the September issue of the Journal of Urology, found that patients with early stage prostate cancer appeared to do much better on a tightly controlled low fat diet. Story