News

Jury in Vioxx trial to hear testimony from Carol Ernst

The jury in the Ernst v. Merck Vioxx trial heard testimony from the daughter of Carol Ernst, who has filed a lawsuit blaming Merck for the death of her husband. A weeping Shawna Sherril testified yesterday that her mother has been distraught since her husband's sudden death four years ago. The lawsuit, which alleges that the painkiller Vioxx is responsible for the heart attack that killed Robert Ernst in May of 2001, is being closely watched by both critics of the drug industry and Wall …

HIT: Carolinas Healthcare launches WiFi drive

ComputerWorld examines a large scale WiFi deployment at Carolinas Healthcare, which runs hospitals in both North and South Carolina. According to the magazine, the provider has added 500 wireless access points throughout its 14 hospitals and plans to add a further 500 in the next year. The tech savvy provider is also conducting a Voice over IP trial for respiratory therapists and other staff to see if equipping them with hands free devices improves efficiency.

- see this …

Medicare to pay for Genentech stroke drug

The Wall Street Journal reports a significant development for biotech firm Genentech. Medicare officials say the program will cover the clot dissolving drug tPA for patients who have suffered serous strokes. Officials note the drug costs about $2,000 per dose but say the drug's track record merits the investment.

- see this story from The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)

SPOTLIGHT: Brain-dead woman allowed to die after giving birth


Doctors allowed a brain dead woman who gave birth yesterday to die by switching off the systems which had been keeping her alive. The case of Susan Torres has been closely watched for months as doctors attempted to save the life of her child. Torres gave birth yesterday to a 1 lb., 13 oz. baby girl. Doctors say the chances are very good that the cancer that killed Torres has not spread to the infant. Story

ALSO NOTED: Caremark beats profit expectations; Molina's results not so good; and much more...

> A Malaysian state-owned investment fund has bought a 13.2 percent stake in Indian hospital company Apollo. Story

> Caremark reports a healthy 53 percent jump in second-quarter net income; the company credits sales of specialty drugs. Release

> California's Insurance …

PhRMA introduces new DTC ad guidelines

As expected, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) released a new set of guidelines this morning intended to address criticism that the drug industry's ads sometimes mislead consumers. If the self-enforced rules are obeyed, the result could be a major change in the drug advertising campaigns Americans see on television. Drug companies will be required to submit spots to the FDA for approval. The new policy also outlaws the brief 15-second spots known as …

Calif. insurance commish condemns HSAs

California's insurance commissioner is expected to release a report this morning highly critical of health savings accounts (HSAs) and the trend in healthcare towards "consumer driven plans." Commissioner John Garamendi's report concludes that California's healthcare system is headed towards "a complete breakdown." Garamendi, a Democrat who plans to run for lieutenant governor in 2006, is a supporter of universal coverage.

The report notes that the cost of healthcare premiums has …

HHS discusses avian flu, bioterror plans

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said his agency is considering a plan which would deliver vaccines to Americans through the postal service or at distribution points such as firehouses, in the event of a major flu outbreak or bioterrorist attack. Leavitt also noted his agency plans to purchase 20 million doses of tamiflu to guard against a possible outbreak of avian flu and a further 20 million doses of a vaccine when it becomes available. Leavitt said the agency hopes to …

HIT: Brailer praises Kaiser's effort

National Health IT coordinator Dr. David Brailer told an audience of about 200 physicians, software engineers and executives from Kaiser Permanente at a health IT conference that the company's new electronic health records system should "serve as a national model." Kaiser's HealthConnect initiative will see the company spend $3.3 billion on modernization technology throughout its health care network over the course of the next decade. "The way Kaiser has gone about doing this is a great …

Top 5 procedures at US hospitals

The most commonly preformed procedure at US hospitals is the Caesarean section, according to new data from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project at AHRQ. Hospitals preformed 1.2 million of the procedures last year, a figure which some analysts called "surprising." According to the agency, the most commonly performed in-patient procedures are: 1) Upper Gastrointestinal endoscopy (712,000); 2) Catheterization to diagnose heart problems (707,000); 3) Respiratory intubation …

SPOTLIGHT: Cigna posts good Q2 results


Shares of Cigna jumped $8 this morning to $116 per share after the insurer reported excellent second-quarter results and forecast better earnings for next year. Earnings were up 43 percent despite little change in the company's healthcare business thanks to a strong showing by its disability and life insurance units. Yesterday, the company announced it is acquiring New Hampshire software maker Choicelinx. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Story

ALSO NOTED: Medicare DM project kicks off; Baby delivered to brain-dead mother; and much more...

> The Washington Post examines one of the trial Chronic Care Improvement Programs for Medicare run by American Healthways in Maryland, which uses nurse telephonists to provide care to the chronically ill. Story

> A pregnant mother who was dying of cancer and was kept alive to try to save her baby had a successful C-section yesterday. The 1 lb., 13 oz. baby appears to …

IT: National EHR network could cost $200B

The nationwide electronic medical records system proposed by the Bush administration could end up costing taxpayers as much as $200 billion, according to a new study released Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. A panel of experts who looked at the issue concluded that a national network could cost up to $156 billion to set up and an additional $48 billion to operate annually. The team from the Harvard Interfaculty program for Health Systems Improvement concluded that the …

Medicare reimbursement rates to be cut 4.3%

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said it will cut physician reimbursement rates by 4.3 percent on Monday. CMS said the cuts are necessary because of recent increases in overall Medicare spending. Under US law, payments to physicians and other healthcare providers must be adjusted downward to help control spending as the program's overall costs increase. The announcement had been anticipated by doctors groups, which have warned that many doctors may reduce the number of …

Microsoft criticized over Vista OS name

Veterans groups and open-source software supporters have responded with anger to Microsoft's decision to give the latest version of the Windows operating system the name Vista. The name, as most people in healthcare know, just happens to be the same as that of the open-source EHR developed by doctors and programmers at the Veterans Affairs administration and in use at hospitals throughout the agency for more than 20 years. The VistA software alliance and WorldVistA, two NGOs involved in …

FDA expected to announce review of DTC ads

The Food and Drug Administration is poised to formally initiate a review of its policies regarding drug company ads, and an announcement to that effect may come as early as today, The Wall Street Journal reports. The review would be the first look the regulatory body has taken at DTC ads in the 10 years since the government opened up the airwaves to advertising by drug companies. Analysts do not expect major changes, such as the all-out ban on ads which some pharma industry …

Tenet posts narrower loss

Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare continues to work its way back from the problems which threatened to bankrupt the company a year ago, posting a narrower second-quarter loss despite a drop in overall admissions. The hospital chain reports losses of $21 million this quarter, down from a loss of $426 million in the same quarter a year ago. The company said a small increase in emergency room admissions and a drop in doubtful debt helped improved its financial picture. Tenet remains under SEC …

SPOTLIGHT: Military fighting mystery bacteria

The US military is fighting to contain the spread of drug resistant bacteria believed to be indigenous to Iraq, Forbes reports. Acinetobacter baumanii is thought to be related to a similar bacteria which stalked military hospitals in Vietnam during the US involvement there. Five patients at military hospitals have died after contracting infections. The Army is investigating a suspected 250 cases. Story

ALSO NOTED: Coventry Health Q2 profit doubles; Study questions value of EMR for diabetes care; and much more...

> Coventry Health reported second-quarter profit up 54 percent thanks to surging management services revenue. Story

> Top executives at PacifiCare will get bonuses of $230 million if the health system's merger with UnitedHealth Group goes through, according to details made public on Monday. Expect more controversy about this.  …

Bush signs medical error bill into law

On Friday, President Bush signed into law legislation designed to encourage hospitals, doctors and other healthcare providers to report medical errors. Supporters say the legislation will help improve of the quality of the US healthcare system by highlighting potentially dangerous trends. Crucially, the legislation does not require that hospitals report mistakes and also guarantees that facilities will remain anonymous -- two stipulations which critics say are likely to hurt its …