Globe to Romney: Don’t flip-flop on Mass health plan

A staff editorial in The Globe gushes over the state health plan and asks Mitt Romney to stick up for it. Warning: The headline might stick a Tammy Wynette song in your head. 

MITT ROMNEY is coming under increasing pressure from leading conservatives to renounce his decision to sign the Massachusetts health reform law. Romney, who is widely expected to run for president in 2012, has sought to differentiate his plan from President Obama’s, but some potential Romney supporters fear that the distinctions will be lost on voters in the increasingly Tea Party-driven GOP.


Mukherjee to speak on cancer book this week in Harvard Square

Oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee,will read from “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer”  on Thursday Dec. 2 at Harvard Book Store.

 He says the book grew out of a journal he kept during a Dana-Farber/ Mass. General fellowship.

For details and links, see Nature Network Boston.

Maine senators join health reform lawsuit

 The Portland Press-Herald reports:

Snowe was concerned with the concept of government mandating an individual purchase of something, especially because she did not believe health insurance would be sufficiently affordable, her office has said.

Snowe and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., tried to amend the reform to reduce the number of people subject to the mandate and allow Congress more flexibility to review the mandate altogether, but it failed in committee.

“The individual mandate has no place in a health care reform bill unless and until affordable health insurance is available for all Americans,” Snowe said in a release about the brief.

Photo by Var Resa

Haitian mental health team wins caregiver award

 The Mass-based Schwartz Center for Compassionate Care was set up in 1994 by a lung cancer patient who learned that “the smallest acts of kindness made the unbearable bearable.” Each year, the center gives out an award. This year’s winner is the Cambridge Health Alliance’s Haitian Mental Health Team, “a multidisciplinary team of caregivers who treat Haitian and Haitian-American patients in more than a half dozen communities in eastern Massachusetts”

 The $5,000 award “recognizes those who embody compassionate care…

 ·      communicates sensitively with patients and loved ones

·      listens carefully, showing empathy and instilling hope

·      respects patients’ values, culture, choices and decisions

·      understands the significance of patients’ families and communities.”

Globe columnist Adrian Walker had this to say about the group in a recent column:

That title may be long and bureaucratic-sounding, but behind it is a dedicated group of mental health providers  who have just been through 10 months many of their peers could not imagine.

They have served a community battered by the emotional ripple effects of the earthquake that shattered the country in January, and then by the cholera epidemic that followed. And they have done so with passion and commitment.


BHN roundup: HIV, HIT, high deductibles and football

  • People with high deductable health plans tend to delay care, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study lists a lot of Boston authors who looked at a local health plan. (Sometime we need to confirm the obvious.) Find the abstract here.
  • Check out Nature Network Boston for a post on the science of football.  Case in point: that head to head hit in the Monday night game against the Giants and the Eagles.  
  • Jargon alert: Some of the obstacles to wiring the health care system keep BIDMC information chief John Halamka up at night. Unless you know what HIT refers to, this one is kind of technical.
  •  The Globe and the Times report that drug for HIV lower the risk of infection. The study was  led by researchers at Brown Univerity and the Fenway Institute, which is the research arm of Fenway Community Health.  Fenway was once a tiny clinic for gay men and women. Now, it’s a huge player with a huge tower near the Longwood Medical area.  

The side effects of romantic comedies

Slightly off topic but fun: Globe movie reviewer Ty Burr uses a drug insert format —  including a list of side effects — to write about the film ”Love and other Drugs.” (FYI, he gives it two and a half stars.)

WARNING: Prolonged exposure to “Love & Other Drugs,’’ a romantic comedy-drama about the ups and downs of high-powered pharmaceutical salesman Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), may result in the following side effects: Overwhelming sensations of slickness, loss of taste and other critical faculties, waxy plot buildup, severe supporting-character blockage, terminal-heroine syndrome, and impacted chick-flick cliches. Constipation and brain death may ensue.

Massachusetts releases database of drug company payments to docs

Not so long ago, it was practically impossible to find out  if a doctor or scientist was on the drug maker’s payroll. The concern? Conflicts of interest threatened to inject bias into both research and care.  And, sometimes, they did.  

 So, some universities asked researchers to report outside payments. Public schools might release spotty records. Then, some journals required researchers to reports conflicts of interest. But, for a long time, they journals didn’t share that information with readers.

 Now, as one doctors once put it, we are in the midst of an orgy of disclosure. Most journals and scientific meetings require authors and speakers to disclose industry support. And today, the state released a database of information supplied by drug companies under the state’s physician payment disclosure law.

This comes as drug companies are releasing the information on their own in anticipation of national reporting requirements.  Just a few weeks ago, the journalism shop Pro Publica collected all the company reports into a database and shared it with news outlets nationwide.  The Globe’s story reported that most of the money went to Partners docs.

 Both the Globe and Commonhealth have reports on the data, the latter offering advice on how to use the database to check your own doc.  

 Like any raw data, the information in these reports need a little processing. The Globe offers a bit of that this morning.

The Massachusetts database shows that 5,048 physicians, or about 12 percent of the state’s doctors, received payments.

The physician who got the most, according to a Department of Public Health analysis, is Dr. Mary Ann Asbell, who was paid $194,275 by Genzyme Corp. in Cambridge for unspecified “bona fide services,’’ a category that includes speaking and consulting. She is not currently licensed in Massachusetts, however, according to the Board of Registration in Medicine.

Asbell was not caring for patients, said Genzyme spokesman John Lacey. She was a Genzyme employee who retired in 2007 and has worked as a contractor since then…

The other top recipients were:

■ Dr. Charles M. Gibson, a Boston cardiologist affiliated with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, paid $188,617 by six companies.

■ Dr. Stephen John Ferzoco, a general surgeon affiliated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, paid $187,443 by LifeCell Corp., a New Jersey company that sells tissue repair products for use in surgery.

■ Dr. Lawrence M. Dubuske, a former Brigham allergist, paid $153,385 by five companies.

■ Dr. Stephen B. Murphy, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with New England Baptist Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess, paid $149,996 by Wright Medical Technology, a Tennessee orthopedic device company.

Gibson does not think his industry payments were as high as the state reported, a Beth Israel Deaconess spokeswoman told the Globe.  

Nature Network Boston: Researchers knock Brigham heart disease test

More over at Nature Network Boston:

Last week’s American Heart Association meeting offered a few flare-ups in the debate over how to identify and treat people at risk of heart disease. Two studies raised questions about the usefulness of the C-reactive protein (CRP) blood test championed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.  

So goes the ongoing battle over primary prevention — the use of drugs to prevent disease in healthy people with “risk factors” that make them prone to disease. Some see the approach as a way to stave off illness. Others see primary prevention as a way for drug companies to push marginal medications on healthy people.

For more on the debate over CRP and heart disease see:

Mass doctors checking on journalists who write about health care

Quite a few Boston doctors are helping out at Health News Review, a website that holds health writers to very high standards. This week, the site took on a Washington Post story about actor Gwyenth Paltrow — dancing on the TV show “Glee.”  The writer took note that Paltrow has”osteopenia” — a mild form of bone loss. This one didn’t even come close to clearing the HNR bar.

Here’s what Harold Demonaco, director of the Innovation Support Center of Massachusetts General Hospital, told HNR:

I must admit that when I first read this headline in The Washington Post I was a bit bewildered. When did osteopenia (technically classified as a bone mineral density that is lower than normal) become an impediment to dancing? Has osteopenia now made it to the level of a disability? If so, there are a lot of women who have suddenly developed a medical condition that not only requires treatment but is disabling. 

What ever the intent, the story sends a disturbing message. The first is that osteopenia, a condition “suffered by millions of active women” is in some way dangerous. Dancing and presumably many other weight bearing activities (including yoga, running, biking, aerobics, skiing to name a few) are now risky and participants should be hailed as either courageous or irresponsible depending on your acceptance of risky behaviors. Can this be?

In reality, millions of American women have osteopenia. Some will go on to osteoporosis and some of those will indeed suffer a fracture. But the line from osteopenia through osteoporosis and fracture is not straight and is certainly not predictable. Yes, women with osteopenia should perhaps alter their lifestyle. A well balanced diet is important. Calcium supplements and vitamin D may help as well as weight bearing activities, like dancing. So the suggestion that dancing is somehow dangerous is well off the mark.

This piece could be forgiven if it ran in the lifestyle section of a newspaper. The fact that it appears in “The Check Up” is truly bewildering.”


HHMI:Howard Hughes funded research in Boston

For the uninitiated, HHMI for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute offers private grants to researchers engaged in basic science – discovery for the sake of knowledge. In the struggle for funding, basic science often loses out to applied science – research aimed at finding a new drug, device or diagnostic tool.

But, as the latest edition of the HHMI Bulletin suggests, the old cliché has some truth in it – basic research produces the building blocks of applied science. Thank the Aviator.

Stories in the publication include a story on antibiotic resistance at research at BU, research out of Harvard on the genetics of mom v. dad.

Note that Susan L. Lindquist, a scientist from Whitehead Institute in Cambridge who got the National Medal of Science yesterday, is a HHMI researcher.

See more on Nature Network Boston.


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