News

Pfizer announces DTC changes

Pfizer said it will change the way it markets its prescription drugs in response to recent criticism of industry practices. The company announced that it would comply with new industry guidelines announced last week and add a few wrinkles of its own. Perhaps most significantly, Pfizer says it will wait six months after a drug is approved before launching any new ad campaigns. The company will use that time to educate doctors about the advantages -- and any possible risks -- involved with …

SEC examines sale of data by medical researchers

The Securities and Exchange Commission has launched an investigation following this weekend's Seattle Times story detailing cases in which doctors involved in clinical trials sold investors access to information about their research. The development follows a call for an investigation on Monday by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). The article revealed 26 cases in which doctors were paid as much as $300 to $500 an hour to disclose details of their …

NEJM looks at terrorism response in London

The New England Journal of Medicine offers a series of articles by British doctors detailing their experiences during last month's bomb attacks on the London Underground. The suicide attacks, which killed 56 people and injured about 700,  offer valuable lessons for both first responders and healthcare providers, write doctors Ryan and Montgomery. While the attacks were not unexpected, their scope and timing created logistical challenges. Doctors treating victims also had to …

Merck scientist defends Vioxx research

The head of clinical trials at Merck denied that the drug company manipulated its research to make the painkiller Vioxx appear safe in testimony on Wednesday in the company's first civil trial. Dr. Alise Reicin said Merck played by the rules in the tests leading up to the drug's introduction. Confronted with an email she wrote in 1997 which suggested that researchers exclude patients who had suffered heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems from a trial, Reicin explained that her …

HIT: Siemens contract with Fla. hospital criticized

The Miami Herald writes in an editorial that a $70 million contract between Siemens Medical Systems and troubled Jackson Memorial Medical Center raises disturbing questions and the "appearance of conflict of interest." The paper questions the role in the deal played by Jackson Memorial CFO Frank Barrett and notes that the "lack of specificity in the numbers and of transparency preceding the selection of Siemens is worrisome."

- see this Op-Ed from the Miami Herald

SPOTLIGHT: Low-fat diet helps in cancer fight

A new study appears to back supporters of the popular belief that an "ultra" low-fat diet can be a weapon in the fight against cancer. Research by health and wellness guru Dr. Dean Ornish, which appears in the September issue of the Journal of Urology, found that patients with early stage prostate cancer appeared to do much better on a tightly controlled low fat diet. Story

ALSO NOTED: HHS needs internal IT update;FBI wants to know about corporate cyberattacks; and much more...

> Despite the health IT boom, transaction giant NDCHealth reports somewhat disappointing results for the year. Release

> HIT: HHS officials take a dose of their own medicine as the agency announces plans to consolidate and update some IT systems. Story

> Eight states currently require hospitals to report …

Medicare Part D premium lower than expected

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) announced this morning that the premium for participants in the new prescription drug benefit for Medicare will be significantly lower than expected. Officials said those signing up for the plan can expect to pay about $32.20 per month, about 15 percent less than earlier estimates. That will "make the benefit more attractive to more people," said CMS administrator Mark McClellan.

The decision is likely to be seen by critics as a …

Consumer Reports releases HMO, PPO ratings

Consumer Reports has released its annual ranking of HMOs and PPOs in its September issue, which goes on sale this week. Although the list is not one that many people in the industry have historically put much stock in, it does provide insights on how consumers feel about some major plans. And, of course, it is a list that becomes increasingly important as the industry moves toward the consumer-driven care model, which stresses consumer involvement in the healthcare purchasing …

Docs at St. Luke's unhappy about naming tower after lawyer

Doctors at St. Luke's Episcopal in Houston are angry about a $25 million gift to the hospital system from a local trial lawyer who made his fortune suing the healthcare industry, the Houston Chronicle reports. Doctors at St. Luke's say renaming the hospital's landmark medical tower after John O'Quinn is an insult and are trying to block the deal. Thus far, the administration has been unmoved. O'Quinn is perhaps best known locally for a series of suits targeting Dow Corning on …

Gilmartin: 'Vioxx could be back on the market'

Former Merck CEO Raymond Gilmartin told jurors that the drug company is "in discussions with the FDA as to whether or not and under what circumstances," Vioxx should be allowed back on the market, in testimony in the Ernst v. Merck case. In a videotaped deposition, Gilmartin told jurors that the company believed Vioxx was safe until researchers uncovered evidence linking the drug to cardiovascular events in 2004. That, of course, was essentially the script which the former executive, who …

Tenet hospitals settle class action suit

Tenet has settled a class-action lawsuit which alleged the healthcare system systematically overcharged patients and targeted the uninsured with high bills. The agreement covers California and eight other states, including Pennsylvania and Florida. More than 35,000 former patients have filed suits against the provider, which moved its headquarters from Santa Barbara, California, to Dallas last year. People who received treatment at Tenet hospitals between June of 1999 and December of 2004 …

SPOTLIGHT: IBD examines electronic health records

Investor's Business Daily takes a look at the economics of building the nation's health IT network and thinks about what the transition to a paperless system may mean in the future. Forrester analyst Eric Brown says the benefits may transcend the numbers game most people focus on. "Imagine if Americans have a 10-year medical history in electronic form, not just free text, but coded and usable. We don't know what we will find." Story

ALSO NOTED: UCI researchers perform surgery over web;PBMs challenged on transparency; and much more...

> Consumer groups want an investigation into why the FDA decided to allow silicon implants back on the market. Story

> Researchers at the University of California Irvine and UCSD have made history in a long-distance experiment which saw a team in Australia use a laser to conduct microsurgery over the web. …

Metric: HMO profits up 10.4% in 2004

HMO profits were up again last year, although the increase is not as large as in previous years, a new survey by Weiss Ratings finds. Overall, health maintenance organization profits were up 10.4 percent in 2004, rising to $11.4 billion. Those numbers, while impressive, were not as good as the spectacular 80 percent jump the group reported in 2003. Humana saw its profit rise $164.9 million, …

Insider trading scandal hits academic medicine

The news that researchers at a number of major academic research centers sold investors access to clinical trial data is getting major media play this morning. Reporters at the Seattle Times uncovered 26 cases in which researchers sold access to their work for large consulting fees, and the stock prices of the affected companies moved markedly before the official results were announced. The New York Times features the story today. In response to the news, Senate Finance …

HIT: CMS VistA program could aid bigger players

ComputerWorld examines the possible impact of the much-talked-about CMS program which will offer small to midsize physician practices access to VistA, the open-source electronic health records software developed by the Veteran's Administration. Reaction to the government's announcement so far has been mixed, ranging from polite skepticism about the program's impact, particularly from health IT veterans, to enthusiastic praise from open-source supporters pleased that the …

Metric: Drug industry cuts DTC advertising

Hammered by a wave of criticism over the way it handles direct-to-consumer advertising, the drug industry curtailed ad spending in the first six months of this year -- the first drop in six years. Overall spending per month slipped to $351 million from $358 million, a 2 percent drop. Overall spending had surged 20 percent in the past four years as the pharmaceutical industry has sought to shape consumer demand for drugs, some of which turned out to have hidden health threats. In response, …

Baylor pathologist: Vioxx not to blame in Ernst death

Most media reports have suggested that Merck is not faring well in the wrongful death suit over Vioxx after two weeks of testimony generally hostile to the drug maker. But now the drug company gets its turn, as Merck lawyers introduce witnesses of their own. On Monday, the head of pathology at the Baylor College of Medicine testified that he does not think Vioxx was to blame for the death of Robert Ernst in 2001. Dr. Thomas Wheeler said he thinks hardened arteries, not Vioxx, were …

SPOTLIGHT: NY Presbyterian decision support program

Doctors in the New York Presbyterian Hospital system will use a new artificial intelligence-based database system which recommends suggested courses of treatment based on previous patient outcomes. Unlike many CPOE systems, which generally rely on rules-based decision making, the New York Presbyterian system, called the Patient Health Monitor Project, uses an inferencing algorithm designed by a resident physician. Story