News

Emergency medical care in US rated 'average'

The American College of Emergency Physicians released a report card rating emergency care across the nation on a state-by-state basis. The average grade was a C-minus. ACEP, which is releasing the report in Washington today, concludes that the quality gap is a result of a number of problems including severe overcrowding, the staffing shortage, ambulance diversions, and other factors, including the growing number of uninsured Americans. No state in the nation received an "A." California, …

Government stance on chronic pain examined

Washington must get serious about the treatment of chronic pain, columnist Jane Brody writes in The New York Times. DEA efforts to regulate medicine have produced a climate in which many physicians are reluctant to prescribe painkillers. "There are a few bad apples," Brody admits, but the implications of the current policy on heavy painkillers affect nearly everybody. Brody quotes Dr. Timothy J. Moynihan who notes that "77 percent of patients suffering unrelieved, …

LifePoint, Triad offer earnings guidance

A crunching noise was heard on Wall Street today as analysts digested bad news from LifePoint. The hospital chain issued guidance on its 2006 earnings. The Brentwood, TN-based company predicts earnings of $2.18 to $2.35 per share next year on earnings of $2.3 billion, a whole lot less than the $2.87 per share and revenues of $2.7 billion that the Street was expecting. Analysts called the news "terribly disappointing" and say it signifies that the company had "a very hard fourth quarter." …

SPOTLIGHT: Blue Shield of California to upgrade systems

Blue Shield of California will launch an upgrade of its EDS-developed claims and enrollment system at some point in the near future, says CIO Elinor MacKinnon in an interview with The San Francisco Business Times. The company did not reveal details of its plan, but sources close to the company put the cost of any deal at the $100 million-plus level. The newspaper notes that BS of California has been advertising heavily on Dice.com for technical support staff. Article

ALSO NOTED: Congress investigates single-use medical devices; First Consulting to team with Northrup; and much more...

> AHRQ released a report finding that disparities in the healthcare system are growing, particularly in minority communities. Article

> First Consulting Group will work with Northrup Grumann on the prototype for a national health information network. …

Boston Scientific raises Guidant bid to $25B

Boston Scientific raised its offer for Guidant to $25 billion as the bidding war between the company and Johnson & Johnson intensifies. Boston Scientific also said it has reached an agreement with Abbott Labs which would see the drug company pick up Guidant's vascular intervention business for about $4 billion. Analysts say the sale is necessary to satisfy antitrust regulators. Boston Scientific already has a strong stent business in its drug coated Taxus line, which had worldwide …

Doctors accepting more Medicare patients

Despite a slight drop in Medicare reimbursement rates five years ago, physicians are seeing an increasing number of Medicare patients, defying predictions that changes would cause them to stop accepting patients from the government program. That's according to a new study that looks at physician participation in the program over the last five years. The Center for the Study of Health System changes argues that the numbers are evidence that physicians would ultimately accept proposed …

Calif. may spend $400M on telemedicine programs

California will spend nearly $400 million on telemedicine programs for the University of California system as part of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's $222 billion plan to upgrade the state's infrastructure. Schwarzenegger announced the plan last week in his state of the state address. Schwarzenegger also said he supports the re-importation of prescription drugs into the country from Canada as a way of keeping drug costs down. The position is a reversal for Schwarzenegger, who supported the …

NY faces diabetes epidemic

Diabetes has reached "epidemic" proportions in New York, health officials said. The New York Times examines the toll of the disease and New York City's efforts to deal with it in a Sunday special. One-in-eight New Yorkers has the disease, which has emerged as a leading killer in the city, particularly in minority and low-income neighborhoods. Officials fear that demographic changes over the next decade will lead to an explosion of new cases that could overwhelm the city's …

States act on Medicare Part D after problems emerge

The new prescription drug benefit went into effect last week with reports of some problems emerging. Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Vermont took action to make sure that elderly and low-income recipients are able to receive medicines until matters are sorted out. Vermont's legislature went perhaps the farthest, declaring a "public health emergency in response to the benefit." Maine said it spent $2 million covering the shortfall last week. There have been reports that some …

SPOTLIGHT: Bay Area PHR drive

The Palo Alto Medical Foundation is running one of the more successful personal health record pilots in the country. PAMF says it has signed up 54,000 people to use it's system--impressive numbers indeed. But all the more impressive when you take into account the fact that 50,000 people have logged in to use the system, according to Paul Tang, the group's CIO. Blog

ALSO NOTED: Winsted Pediatrics blames billing system for overcharges; Pfizer uses RFID tags to combat fraud; and much more...

> Winsted Pediatrics has settled overbilling charges with the feds after billing Medicare for flu vaccine it received free from the government. Winsted Pediatrics has an interesting explanation for the charges--outdated billing software. Article

> In an effort to combat fraud, Pfizer has been using RFID tags to track Viagra shipments. …

Editor's Corner


This week sees three important new healthcare policy developments. For starters, the federal government is about to add a little more money to the pie used to promote EMRs. Also, the new Medicare Part D drug benefit is up and running--with some glitches--but that's to be expected. Finally, last year's budget vote cuts Medicaid and gives states the freedom to fairly radically change …

Bush to promote EMRs

The New York Sun reports that President Bush will announce a major new drive to encourage health care providers to adopt electronic medical records (EMR) technology in February. The President will request an additional $100 million to $200 million in funding for EMR projects. The newspaper reports the new initiative will include nationwide personalized medication histories, the increased use of email for secure messaging between physicians and patients and a drive for …

Sharon's illness rekindles controversy over stroke care

The massive stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is renewing a longstanding debate about the proper treatment of stroke victims. Sharon, who suffered a minor stroke last month, was treated with the clot-busting drug Clexane. Supporters think the drug should be routinely administered to prevent long-term heart damage. Critics, including many ER docs, often disagree vehemently, pointing out that the treatment has been linked to serious cerebral hemorrhaging--exactly the …

Down syndrome numbers confirm practitioner suspicions

New evidence suggests that the prevalence of Down syndrome in the U.S. is higher than had been previously thought. The CDC released a report Thursday that concludes that the number of cases of Down syndrome is one in every 733 live births. The report details the incidence of 18 common birth defects. Public health groups praised the announcement, saying it reflects the reality of what has become a growing problem. Unlike earlier surveys, which had examined limited data sets, this week's …

National Capital Medical Center project moves forward

Plans to build a new $400 million hospital in traditionally underserved southeast Washington, DC, are moving forward. Mayor Anthony Williams and the president of Howard University signed a deal yesterday which makes the project official. A new independent, not-for-profit corporation will operate the National Capital Medical Center. As part of the deal, Howard University will sell its hospital to the new entity. Critics have argued that the economically disadvantaged area, which is plagued …

Nurses union wins fight over flu shots

A federal judge has ruled that a hospital may not force its employees to get flu shots, despite the public health implications of their refusal. Seattle's Virginia Mason Medical Center, a 336-bed facility that employs roughly 5,000 people, had ordered all employees to receive flu shots by January 1. The Washington State Nurses Association filed a grievance, seeking to block the requirement as a condition of employment. The CDC recommends that all healthcare workers receive priority …

SPOTLIGHT: RI hospital execs charged in graft case

Three former executives at Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence, RI, have been charged in an influence-peddling scandal involving a state senator. Prosecutors allege the officials hired former state senator John Celona as a consultant at a salary of $250,000 a year. Celona worked at the hospital while serving on a committee that consider legislation of interest to the facility. Article

ALSO NOTED: 3rd child dies of bird flu in Turkey; Cleveland Clinic experiments with video podcasts; and much more...

> A third member of a Turkish family has died of bird flu in the town of Dogubeyazit, close to the Iranian border. The World Health Organization says a quarantine has been imposed on the town. These are the first bird flu deaths outside of Asia. Article

> Louisiana, which faces an uninsurance crisis after Hurricane Katrina, granted Affiliated Computer Services' a 20-month, $11 million contract extension to …