News

AARP study backs drug reimportation

A study funded by the politically influential AARP finds that drug reimportation has helped control costs in the European Union. The study recommends that US consumers be allowed to obtain prescription drugs from outside the country. The AARP's Public Policy Institute looked at the legal trade in prescription drugs between wholesalers in the EU and found that "parallel trading," as reimportation is known in Europe, helps keep drug costs under control in countries which allow it. Senators …

Pfizer torcetrib decision second-guessed

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine by Harvard's Jerry Avorn argues that Pfizer's plan to combine Lipitor -- it's blockbuster statin -- with torcetrapib, the new cholesterol-fighting compound developed by the company's researchers, is likely to be bad news for both doctors and patients. Avorn writes that combining the two drugs into one pill as the company plans would have serious ramifications.

"Patients who cannot tolerate (or afford) Lipitor," Avorn …

DEA agents crack down on medical marijuana clinics

Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents launched a series of raids at more than 20 medical marijuana dispensaries in the San Francisco area this week. The busts are likely to reignite debate on the controversial issue, only weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that federal anti-drug statutes take precedence over state drug laws. DEA agents would not say how many people were caught up in the sweep, pending a press conference. Authorities did reveal, however, that they have charged two people …

SPOTLIGHT: 'Elevatorgate' inquiry widens

The Duke University health system said a third hospital in North Carolina is involved in an unusual incident in which surgical instruments were washed in hydraulic fluid left behind by an elevator repair crew. Officials at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center said staff discovered the mistake before any patients were put at risk. More details in the error are emerging. The Washington Post reports that supplier Cardinal Health was involved in shipping the mislabeled vats of …

ALSO NOTED: FDA approves BiDil; VA $1B short on budget; and much more...

> A surprising survey of hospitals in Japan underscores the cultural differences between attitudes regarding end-of-life issues in Asia and the US. Story

> The Food and Drug Administration approved the controversial BiDil, the first race-based medicine to be marketed in the US. …

Medical device database unplugged by Congress

Some time ago a group of orthopedic surgeons had what they thought was a very good idea. Why not take information on knee and hip replacements paid for by the government and collect it in a publicly accessible database? A lot of people thought the idea made sense. After all, that way both patients and doctors would have access to crucial information about how well competing products work. But the plan hasn't gone very far. The New York Times reports that current government …

Calif. plan would reshape hospital finances

California will move nearly 500,00 blind, elderly and disabled residents to managed care in a deal worked out with Washington. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had tried unsuccessfully to get related legislation passed in Sacramento in May. Administration sources said the compromise would give California $3.3 billion more in federal funding for medical care for the state's poor. The news was met with dismay by some patient advocates, who argue the change could hurt the quality of care provided …

Dems introduce 'Wal-Mart' bill

Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John Corzine (D-NJ) introduced legislation yesterday which would require states to report the names of companies which have 50 or more employees receiving government subsidized healthcare. The legislation specifically targets large employers like Wal-Mart, who have drawn heavy criticism from some observers recently for failing to provide benefits for their workers. The lawmakers noted that more than 600,000 of Wal-Mart's 1.2 million employees …

Report: Merck tried to alter Vioxx

The Associated Press is reporting that researchers at Merck were working to change the formulation of the Cox-2 painkiller Vioxx years before the drug was taken off the market. Internal company documents reveal that in March of 2000 researchers began exploring the possibility of combining Vioxx with an agent that would block blood platelets from clotting -- a key to preventing undesirable cardiovascular events -- even as the company insisted its drug was safe.

The new evidence …

HealthSouth execs get light sentences; Scrushy jury back to square one

Prosecutors said they want a review of light sentences handed out to two former HealthSouth executives who pled guilty to participating in the giant fraud at the company. Mike Martin and Richard Botts received $10,000 fines and sentences of home confinement for their role in the conspiracy last year. Prosecutors will ask for jail time for both men. "It's appropriate that they go to jail," said US Attorney Alice Martin.

- see this …

SPOTLIGHT: NJ hospital didn't notify authorities of serial killer

Officials at Somerset Medical Center in New Jersey did not contact the police for more than three months after learning from state poison control officials that "somebody at the hospital was probably killing people." In that time convicted serial killer Charles Cullen killed five additional patients by poisioning them while working as a nurse at the facility. Story

ALSO NOTED: Docs unhappy with defibrillator recall; Cardinal, Lahey ink deal; and much more...

> Many doctors are unhappy about the way Guidant's defibrillator recall is being handled. Most think Guidant should be responsible for informing patients. Story

> Federal agents raided medical marijuana clubs in California and across the country yesterday arresting dozens of people. …

Boston Scientific found to have violated J&J stent patent

A Delaware jury found yesterday that Boston Scientific infringed on patents covering a series of popular stents developed by Johnson & Johnson in the first round of the legal battle between the rivals. The decision covers three stents manufactured by Boston Scientific: the Express, the Liberte and the bestselling Taxus line. Legal experts have predicted the case could cost Boston Scientific $1 billion in damages and possibly much more. A seperate trial in August will decide if …

AMA won't push for DTC ad ban

The American Medical Association voted to not to support legislation which would impose a moratorium on pharma company ads targeting consumers. A committee will now study the issues involved. The organization also voted to oppose laws which "presume patients would want medical treatment" in response to the medical end of life issues raised by the Schiavo case. The doctors' group also came out against strict new labeling requirements for antidepressants, saying warnings may confuse …

Duke: No evidence hydraulic fluid caused harm

The Duke University Hospital system says there is no evidence that patients suffered any harm when they were operated on with surgical instruments accidentally washed with hydraulic fluid before sterilization. The story, which emerged last week, has made national headlines and led to calls from some lawmakers for stronger safety regulations at hospitals. The mistake, which Duke is depiciting as a freak accident, happened when workers repairing an elevator decided to store unsued hydraulic …

Kennedy thimerasol article provokes debate

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. reignited the debate over the now largely discontinued use of thimerasol as a preservative in children's vaccine. An article by Kennedy, which appears in this month's Rolling Stone and is also published online at Salon.com, alleges a massive conspiracy involving major pharma companies, federal authorities and other powerful groups to cover up a link between autism and mercury content in vaccines.

The article's publication led to immediate calls from …

IT: EMR push examined

Time becomes the latest national publication to focus on the movement to modernize the nation's healthcare IT infrastructure with a major article on the subject this week. The magazine interviews Cerner's Neal Patterson, AllScripts' Glen Tullman and Siemens Medical Solutions' Don Rucker. The "by most accounts effective" government push in Washington for EMR is also examined. Time's conclusion: "the bottom line is that better healthcare may not hapen without better …

SPOTLIGHT: Anesthesiologists score a win in malpractice fight


While other doctor's groups have fought rising malpractice rates by lobbying for changes to liability laws, anesthesiologists appear to have been more successful by following a strategy of protecting themselves by adopting best practices. The Wall Street Journal reports that patient death rates have dropped dramatically as a result from one in 5,000 to about one in 200,000. The result: malpractice rates paid by anesthesiologists are actually lower than they were 20 years ago. And the specialty is considered among the safest bets by insurers. Story

ALSO NOTED: HIPAA requirements at hospitals; Defibrillator guidelines prepared; and much more...

> A medical society representing cardiologists who implant defibrillators in patients said it is preparing guidelines for device makers after Guidant's problems. Story (Wall Street Journal sub. req.)

> Investor's Business Daily looks at the IT changes hospitals are being forced to make to meet HIPAA requirements. …

Health care spending up 8.2% in 2004

After showing signs of leveling off, health care costs have continued to rise at a rate of 8.2%, according to a new analysis by the Center for Studying Health System Change. That's a slight improvement over 2003, when they rose at a rate of 8.4%. The study, which appears in the journal Health Affairs today, concludes that the trend will probably lead to more Americans joining the ranks of the uninsured. The report also notes that the trend towards expensive outpatient procedures, …