News

Cleveland Clinic moves forward with face transplant

The news that the Cleveland Clinic plans to go ahead with the first human face transplant is drawing predictably heavy media attention. Dr. Maria Siemionow's team got the official go ahead for the controversial procedure from an internal review board at the Clinic last week. Siemionow and her colleagues will interview five candidates for the operation over the next month. 

Ethicists are worried about the possible psychological consequences for patients and the ethical issues …

Panel critical of device maker; Medtronic may release data

Following a day long meeting of leading cardiologists in Washington sponsored by the Heart Rhythm Society, Medtronic announced that it is considering making public the performance data on its defibrillators. No other major announcements came out of the meeting, but insiders say reporting rules changes are likely given concerns about the recent increase in defibrillator defects. A government study released at the conference found that the number of problems has risen sharply over the last …

HIT:New York RHIO examined

With Washington now officially convinced that electronic medical records could have helped alleviate much of the confusion following Hurricane Katrina, look for more attention to be paid to the topic. The New York Times looks at the Taconic Health Information Network and Community, one effort to link small physician practices in upstate New York, which was funded by grants from the eHealth Initiative and the Agency for Health Care Quality. Proponents suggest that the Taconic …

SPOTLIGHT: Study: Small group practices trail in EMR adoption

A report by the Medical Group Management Association offers more evidence suggesting that small group practices are trailing large ones when it comes to adopting EMR technology. The report, which was co-authored by researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, finds a precise correlation between adoption rates and group practice size. Those with less than five physicians had a 12 percent adoption rate, while it was 19.5 percent for those with more than 20 …

ALSO NOTED: Siemens Medical Systems to let go 2,500; Mass legislature overrides Romney Plan B veto; and much more...

> Siemens announced plans to let 2,4000 workers go this morning. The impact of the restructuring on Siemens Medical Systems is uncertain. Story

> The Massachusetts legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Mitt Romney and passed a law making it easier for women to obtain the contraceptive Plan B. …

Editor's Corner


This week there is confirmation that employer-based health insurance is withering on the vine. Kaiser FF reports that only 60% of Americans received insurance from an employer, down from 69% just five years ago at the height of the boom. Most of those who've lost coverage are in smaller firms, but of course most people work for small firms, and even large firms are pushing more costs …

Texas and Washington announce agreement on evacuee Medicaid coverage

The federal government and the state of Texas said they have reached a compromise which will guarantee health coverage for those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Under the plan, health care benefits for Medicaid recipients will be extended for six months. Officials also said government coverage will be extended to more people in the disaster zone, although precise details on what that means were not released. Texas also increased its official estimate of the number of evacuees it has …

FDA releases new defibrillator safety data

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to release new data this morning which shows that the number of problems with defibrillators rose sharply between 1992 and 2002. According to the FDA, pacemakers have shown an improvement over the same time frame, with the number of problems reported showing a decline. Between 1990 and 2002, the agency said 62 people died as a result of the failure either pacemakers or defibrillator failure.  

Some observers are pointing at …

Study: Drugs as good as stents for small heart attacks

Another study on stents is likely to stir debate among cardiologists, hospitals, and payers. This one, carried out by Dutch researchers, questions the prevailing wisdom that aggressive intervention using drug eluting stents is a better option for patients who suffered minor heart attacks than waiting for drugs to do their work. The researchers found no difference in outcomes for patients who had stents inserted compared to using a variety of drugs, but suggested that cost would be the …

Health care recruiters target Gulf region

Here's one for the ethics committee: USA Today reports that, faced with a nationwide shortage of health care workers, health care providers are launching recruiting efforts in Mississipi, Alabama, and Louisiana. Hospitals and recruiters are running ads in local papers offering health care workers new jobs in areas far removed from the disaster. Some of the job offers -- particularly those targeting nurses -- are temporary. Others are permanent. How real is this trend? That remains to be …

Study: Digital mammography improves detection rates

A study which appears in the New England Journal of Medicine today suggests that digital mammography may do a better job than conventional technology at detecting breast cancer in young women. The study conducted by the American College of Radiology Imaging and funded by a grant from the National Cancer Insitute, looked at 42,000 women who underwent cancer screening. Researchers concluded that digital mammography was more effective for women under the age of 50, particularly those with …

SPOTLIGHT: TennCare relief program faces lack of interest


The non-profit agency set up to help people cut from the TennCare rolls find emergency coverage says it faces a surprising situation: a near total lack of interest on the part of the people they set out to help. Experts at the agency are unsure exactly why people are not getting in touch with them to explore alternatives. Of the 15,000 people bumped from the rolls in Davidson County, the organization reports, only 150 showed up to its information session. Story

ALSO NOTED: Washington signs $100 million flu vaccine deal with Sanofi-Aventis; Mr. Scrushy wants his job back

> The Department of Health and Human Services says it has reached terms with Sanofi-Aventis on a deal which will see the French pharma company produce its experimental HN51 vaccine. Story

> Private equity firm Blackstone is paying $1.7 billion for specialist health insurer UICI. Story

> …

Lawmakers want more data on heart devices

On Wednesday, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said they will call for new rules requiring the FDA to collect more data on defibrillators and pacemakers. Critics have charged that not enough information is gathered from manufacturers, making it difficult for regulators to reliably assess the risks involved with specific models. Health plans and other providers have argued for a long time that they need access to the information in order to better compare …

Study: Calif. HMO care improves

California released a report card this week showing that HMOs in the state are doing a little bit better than in the past. The Office of the Patient Advocate ranks health management organizations in the state in categories such as preventive care, treatment of acute and chronic illnesses and patient opinions. The report also ranks 150 physician medical groups. Kaiser Permanente Southern California received the top ranking, while Aetna Health, Universal Care and Blue Cross of California …

Trend: ADHD prescriptions for adults soar

A study by pharmacy benefits manager Medco has found that prescriptions for attention-deficit disorder drugs have soared over the past four years, trailing only hot-selling rheumatoid arthritis drugs in the marketplace. The number of prescriptions written to treat ADHD more than doubled between 2000 and 2004, according to the pharmacy benefits manager. Some analysts say the trend reflects a growing feeling among doctors that the condition is not just a childhood problem. Others warn the …

Med Tech: FDA approves device for paralyzed patients

Neurologist Dr. John McDonald, probably best known for having treated paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve, is the founder of Baltimore-based Restorative Therapies, a medical device start-up specializing in technologies that help people with neurological damage recover motor functions. This week the company received FDA approval for the RTS-300, a functional electrical stimulation (FES) motorized cycle ergometer. According to the company, the device works by delivering electrical currents to …

Judge rebukes Merck attorney in Vioxx case

The second Vioxx trial is underway in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Although you'd expect attorneys representing Merck to be a little more deferential to jurors and tread a little more lightly after the disastrous verdict in Ernst v. Merck, that does not appear to be the case. This morning Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee threatened to declare a mistrial because of negative comments about lawyers from defense attorney Diane Sullivan in her opening remarks. "It's simply playing to the bias …

SPOTLIGHT: N.O. hospitals may face lawsuits

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that lawsuits may be filed over the deaths of patients during Hurricane Katrina. Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare, which on Monday denied media reports that patients in its charge were left alone to die at Memorial Medical Center, is expected to be one of the providers at the focus of any legal action. Louisiana State University law professor Edward Richards said major disasters like Katrina and 9/11 may not be the sort of thing which providers …

ALSO NOTED: Starbucks spends more on healthcare than coffee; Calif. to ban junk food in schools; and much more...

> Starbucks has always taken pride in the health coverage it offers workers. The company now spends more on healthcare costs than it does on coffee. Story

> California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign the nation's toughest legislation against junk food in schools. …