News

ALSO NOTED: Stem cell research backed by public; Graham critical of FDA safety plans; and much more...

> A new poll by Harris Interactive finds the majority of Americans favor federal funding for stem cell research. Story (Wall Street Journal sub. req.)

> The Wall Street Journal reports that venture capitalists want a change in the stem cell rules as well. …

Panel to guide new national EHR system

A new government panel will help oversee the creation of a nationwide electronic health record (EHR) system, Health and Human Services Head Michael Leavitt said Monday. The announcement came at the meeting of a health information management association in New York. Officially to be called the American Health Information Community (AHIC), the panel will be in a position to theoretically wield tremendous influence within the healthcare and technology industries.

The HHS plan gives …

Ruling limits HIPAA prosecutions

A new Justice Department ruling concludes that the government cannot prosecute in many cases in which privacy laws protecting patient medical records are broken. The new interpretation of the law, which is binding for federal agencies, concludes that existing privacy regulations cover healthcare providers but do not apply when employees act on their own. The ruling means the government will not be able to file criminal cases against individuals under the Health Insurance Portability and …

Doc shortage means longer waits for patients

Patients in Massachusetts are waiting longer to see specialists than ever before as a direct result of the state's physician shortage, a new report finds. The amount of time patients must wait to see specialists in cardiology, gastroenterology, internal medicine, obstetrics-gynecology and orthopedic surgery is now three to six weeks.

The study, which was conducted by the Massachusetts Medical Society as part of its annual Physician Workforce Study, concludes that waiting times are …

DOJ says drug-pricing cases at record high

State and federal officials are aggressively investigating more than 150 cases of pricing fraud involving the drug industry, The Wall Street Journal reports. A senior Justice Department official tells the paper that fines assessed could eventually total more than $1 billion. Most of the cases involve situations in which companies are accused of inflating prices in deals with government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. The new enforcement drive comes just months before federal …

Competition increases at weight-reduction surgery centers

With weight-loss reduction surgery increasingly popular, many hospitals are discovering that the field is a welcome source of revenue. A fair number have concluded that offering the obesity treatment can help offset the expenses of revenue drains like emergency rooms and the cost of providing care to the uninsured. That is leading to increased competition among hospitals in states like California, where the law often makes it difficult for insurers to turn down claims. Critics wonder, …

SPOTLIGHT: Hospitals must disclose environmental problems

Carnitas Christi Health Care has agreed to conduct an immediate review of environmental conditions at all 66 of its hospitals in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The healthcare provider has 60 days to complete the inspection process and is required to notify the Environmental Protection Agency of any problems it finds. Hospitals across the country have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as the EPA has turned its attention to the problem of medical waste generated by hospitals, …

ALSO NOTED: Compromise bill caps damages at $900K; Scrushy trial drags on; and much more...

> The Scrushy trial moves into low gear as scheduling conflicts limit jurors to two days of deliberations this week. Story

> Rep. Dan Baird (D-Wash.) proposed a compromise medical malpractice bill yesterday, which caps damages at $900,000 and tightens oversight on both doctors and lawyers. Story

> …

Court rules pharmacists must warn on drug risks

On Friday, a Florida appeals court ruled that pharmacies can be held liable for failing to warn patients of the potentially dangerous drug effects of the prescription drugs they dispense, even though they may simply be executing a doctor's written instructions. Judge Mark Polen wrote that the pharmacist represents the last line of defense standing between patients and potential harm, noting that "a strong policy basis already exists supporting a pharmacist's duty to warn customers of the …

Possible mistrial in Scrushy case

The US government's case against Richard M. Scrushy appears to have run into serious trouble. On Friday, after two weeks of deliberation, the 12 jurors in the trial of the former HealthSouth CEO said they are deadlocked and unable to reach a verdict. US District Judge Karen Bowdre has ordered the jury to press on and reach a decision. There is considerable skepticism, however, that they will be able to do so.

Prosecutors allege Scrushy was the mastermind of an attempt to defraud …

Supreme Court rejects medical marijuana

The US Supreme Court has issued a 6-3 decision backing the Justice Department, saying that federal authorities may prosecute sick people who smoke pot, even if states enact statutes permitting the use of medical marijuana. That would appear to be very bad news indeed for supporters who insist marijuana can help patients dealing with serious illnesses. Justice Paul Stevens, who authored the majority opinion, noted that Congress has the power to change the law on the federal …

Canadians consider blocking drug exports

In the latest twist to the drug reimportation story, the Canadian government appears ready to block large bulk shipments of prescription drugs to the US. The legislation is considered by most analysts to be an effort to avoid a possible boycott by angry US pharma companies. Three of Canada's big political parties support the measure, saying its effects will be limited and that it won't effect Internet pharmacies or limit access to drugs. Critics don't see it that way at all.

- see this story from The Washington Post

IT: Duke Health System website breached

About 14,500 users of Internet services at the Duke University Health System should change their passwords, officials said on Monday. Duke said hackers were able to penetrate security, obtaining information on user passwords and social security numbers, but were unable to access financial and other confidential records. University IT officials discovered the breach over the Memorial Day weekend after unusual activity was detected on the school's server logs. Duke began the process of …

SPOTLIGHT: Leavitt announces interoperability initative, RFP

Health and Human Services head Mike Leavitt announced the formation of a new public-private collaborative which will "lead the nationwide transition to an electronic health record in a smooth, market-led way." The new group will be called the American Health Information Community (AHIC). HHS is also issuing four RFPs designed to set the stage for interoperability. The RFPs cover data standards, certification and architecture as well as privacy and security. Release

ALSO NOTED: Bristol-Myers Squibb to pay $300M settlement; Influential Medicare official fined; and much more...

> Pharma giant Bristol-Meyers Squibb said it will pay a $300 million fine to settle a long-standing legal dispute with the government over its accounting practices. Story

> BusinessWeek looks at websites which let consumers comparison shop for the best hospitals and healthcare providers. …

Editor's Corner


The news this week that IDX has lost one of its two contracts for the UK's national health infrastructure upgrade may be bad news for them and good news for Cerner. But it's also a reminder that IT projects of any scale are big and complex, and also that healthcare IT is sufficiently complex that only specialty companies are in the market. Apart from Siemens, whose acquisition of SMS …

First lawsuit targets Guidant defibrillator

Medical device maker Guidant continued to defend itself from criticism of its decision to keep a discontinued defibrillator on the market, even after it learned of a design problem affecting the device. The company is arguing that the Ventak Prizm is perfectly safe and that it made changes to its design simply to err on the side of caution. According to one estimate, the defibrillator is implanted in about 20,000 patients. Wall Street has shrugged off the charges, with the company's stock …

Initiative pushes for easier access to patient insurance info

A consortium of more than 50 major insurers, healthcare companies and technology players will develop standards to make access to patient health insurance information easier. The Council for Affordable Quality Healthcare (CAQH) hopes to have a preliminary set of information-exchange rules in place as early as next year, The Wall Street Journal reports. The new procedures would allow doctors and medical centers much easier access to information which currently is often difficult …

Trend: Painkiller prices rise 15%

A new study commissioned by Consumers Union finds that recent changes in the prescription painkiller market have meant a climb in prices for most painkillers. The research looks at pricing trends in the period since last September, when Merck was forced to withdraw the Cox-2 painkiller Vioxx from the market. Prices have risen on average 15 percent for drugs remaining on the market, according to a survey of data provided by NDCIHealth. Consumers Union found prices for Johnson & …

CDC backpedals on obesity report

The Centers for Disease Control appears to be backing away from a controversial report released in April which concludes that obesity poses fewer health risks than earlier estimates had suggested. The April CDC analysis, which raised eyebrows in health policy circles across the country, concluded that obesity claims only 25,000 lives per year, as opposed to an earlier estimate of about 385,000.

Many prominent researchers have since harshly criticized the report. In a press …