#APEC15 Emergency docs gather in Boston for annual meeting

Pro Publica: #College students, campus #health and #privacy

From the investigative team at Pro Publica. Boston Students take note.

Universities walk a fine line when providing that treatment or mental-health services to students. If campus officials don’t know what’s going on or disclose too little, they risk being blamed if a student harms himself, herself, or others. If they pry too deeply, they may be accused of invading privacy, thereby discouraging students from seeking treatment.

Even after mental-health treatment ends, privacy issues persist. Disputes have erupted over whether colleges can consult patient records to defend themselves, such as when they are accused of not properly investigating a sexual assault.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the schools are trying to strike the right balance,” said Paul Lannon, a Boston lawyer who advises colleges on legal issues. “They care for the students. They want the students to do well. They want the students to be healthy.”


Doctors try to get it right by listening and more #RCAW

If your doctor, nurse or anyone tending to your health seems to be giving you a little extra attention this week, he or she might be part of “RightCare Action Week.”

From Medscape:RightCareActionWeekLogo_Banner

The RightCare Alliance, … has representation from virtually all medical specialties as well as patients, patient advocates, consumer groups, community groups, business groups, and public health. The Alliance also has a specific focus on the critical evaluation of the medical evidence and promotion of evidence-based care.

A project of the Boston-based Lown Institute, the group is promoting a week-long effort that calls on providers to “take action to show patients that we have not forgotten what good medical care is. Actions can be as simple as taking a deeper social history or doing a house call.”

A bit more on the project from Health Leaders Media.

On the Brookline (Mass.) Tab website, Lown president Vikas Saini describes how that will roll out in Boston:

Everyone is fed up with the business climate in medicine that cheats patients out of the right health care and does little but bolster institutional bottom lines — all while health outcomes are poor compared to many other countries.

What can we all do about it?

The event is “a time for patients and clinicians to stand up and voice what they’d like to see their health care system become. More of the same? Or something better?…

A transformed healthcare system must be, before anything, a system that truly connects with patient needs. And we cannot make this connection if we do not listen. A listening booth is a way to publicly draw attention to the need to listen, by listening.

This week, as a part of RightCare Action Week, Lown Institute physicians will be heading out around the Boston area to set up listening booths. Tell them what you think about our healthcare delivery. They will listen.

Here is a list of their locations:


10 am to 12 pm – Davis Square,  park across from T station (Somerville)
2- 4 pm – Cambridge City Hall or Central Square TBA (Cambridge)
Contact person on site: Aaron Stupple, MD



10 am – 12 pm –Andrew Square, park across from T station (South Boston)
2-4pm    Boston Common (can you list across from ….?)
Contact person on site: Vikas Saini, MD



10 am – 12pm 510 Broadway Chelsea – park across from City Hall (Chelsea)
2- 4pm –    421 Broadway, Everett – park in front of library (Everett)
Contact person on site: Aaron Stupple, MD


10 am – 12pm – Jamaica Plain (TBD) Check back for updates
2-4pm Dorchester/Mattapan – location TBD
Contact person on site: Vikas Saini, MD

Or, go online to Tell your story .




Nurses and nursing homes: Watchdog health reporting at the Globe

CaptureHow evil is it to charge people for Alzheimer’s care and not deliver it? How dangerous is it for people to go around saying they’re licensed nurses when they are not?

CaptureStuff like this is hard to track because, last we checked, the people in charge of records like these were not real helpful.  Liberal Massachusetts is known for its strict public records laws.

Kay Lazar of the Globe had this yesterday:

State regulators are citing more than four dozen Massachusetts nursing homes for advertising dementia care services when they don’t actually offer the kind of care required to make such a claim, according to the Department of Public Health.

and Felice Freyer had this Sunday, with a follow up Monday:

Massachusetts regulators revoked or suspended the professional licenses of 13 nurses after discovering recently that the health care workers lied about having nursing degrees or being licensed in other states, health department documents show.

The action sparked questions about the background checks state regulators rely on to issue licenses to thousands of nurses and applicants in 10 other health fields, including pharmacists, psychologists, podiatrists, and optometrists.

My latest from Health Leaders: disparities, quality & TripleAim

by Nora Valdez. Click for more.

by Nora Valdez. Click for more.

Fueled by the financial incentives built into the healthcare reform law, the Institute for Health Improvement’s concept is generating meaningful changes in the way healthcare is delivered, research finds.

Value-based care brings new urgency to the effort to end disparities in healthcare access and outcomes for minorities.

Is female Viagra a scam? Boston women’s health group questions drug, supporters

indexThe non-profits pressuring the FDA to approve a drug billed as female Viagra do not quite make up a top ten list or women’s health advocacy organizations. This health writer has never heard of most of the groups cited in Sunday’s New York Times story.

But familiar women’s health groups, like Boston’s Our Bodies, Ourselves, are siding with the FDA on this one. From their response to an earlier review of the drug.

imagesWomen taking the drug had less than one additional “sexually satisfying event” (orgasm not required) than women taking a placebo. And in the meantime, the drug caused dizziness, nausea and fatigue, particularly with long-term daily use, in some women — hardly the recipe for sexual excitement.

The FDA also considered whether the drug had increased women’s desire — a crucial element of the HSDD diagnosis, which involves low or no sexual interest to the point of distress in people who are physically healthy and not depressed — and found that the drug failed in this area.

The FDA takes another look — and offers  a live webcast of the deliberations —  on Thursday.

In it’s report on the 2010 FDA rejection of the drug, the OBOS  website notes another Bay State-based critic of the drug:

According to Julia Johnson, the panel’s chairwoman and head of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the impact of the drug flibanserin … was “not robust enough to justify the risks.”

More here from another independent, feminist women’s health group, The National Women’s Health Network:

Members of the campaign called “Even the Score” are challenging the FDA on what they claim is a perpetuation of a gender bias by virtue of the claim that the FDA is holding drugs that treat women’s sexual problem to a higher standard than those for erectile dysfunction.  Even the Score has engaged prominent women’s rights organizations, health care providers, the media and members of Congress in a public relations misinformation campaign to criticize the FDA.  There are Female Sexual Dysfunction drugs currently under FDA review, and Even the Score is attempting to move the discussion away from the safety and effectiveness of these drugs and towards controversy about gender bias. 

The reality is that no amount of public relations or slick marketing can get around the fact that the drugs currently being proposed for Female Sexual Dysfunction simply don’t work and may be quite dangerous. Poor efficacy, a strong placebo effect, and valid safety concerns have plagued all of the drugs that have been tested so far. There are many reasons why the proposed drugs may not have been effective in increasing women’s sexual enjoyment; chief among them is the heterogeneity of female sexuality and, of course, research demonstrating that sexual problems are mostly shaped by interpersonal, psychological, and social factors. Nevertheless, pharmaceutical executives will continue to drum up hype over the possibility of a “pink Viagra” because the profit market for this type of drug is estimated to be over $2 billion a year.

Note that neither of these groups accept funding from the pharmaceutical industry. Even the score supporter include Sprout, the company seeking approval for the drug and Trimel Pharmaceuticals, a company testing a nasal testosterone gel for “female orgasmic disorder.”

Yale’s Dr. Ross and the promotion of me-too meds

From ProPublica on me-too meds. Yale’s Dr. Joseph Ross gets a quote in this story. , Vox offers a summary of his NEJM piece on digital marketing to docs. More here on his work into the accuracy of clinical trial registries.

Here’s the NEJM abstract: Pharmaceutical marketing can lead to overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and overuse of medications. Digital advertising creates new pathways for reaching physicians, allowing delivery of marketing messages at the point of care, when clinical decisions are being made.

From ProPublica

Vying for Market Share, Companies Heavily Promote 2018 Me Too’ Drugs

by Charles Ornstein and Ryann Grochowski Jones ProPublica, Jan. 7, 2015, 2 p.m.

propub logoThis story was co-published with the New York Times’ The Upshot.

For more than five decades, the blood thinner Coumadin was the only option for millions of patients at risk for life-threatening blood clots. But now, a furious battle is underway among the makers of three newer competitors for the prescription pads of doctors across the country.

The manufacturers of these drugs 2014 Pradaxa, Xarelto and Eliquis 2014 have been wooing physicians in part by paying for meals, promotional speeches, consulting gigs and educational gifts. In the last five months of 2013, the companies spent nearly $19.4 million on doctors and teaching hospitals, according to ProPublica’s analysis of federal data released last fall.

The information, from a database known as Open Payments, gives the first comprehensive look at how much money drug and device companies have spent working with doctors. What it shows is that the drugs most aggressively promoted to doctors typically aren’t cures or even big medical breakthroughs. Some are top sellers, but most are not.

Instead, they are newer drugs that manufacturers hope will gain a foothold, sometimes after failing to meet Wall Street’s early expectations.

“They may have some unique niche in the market, but they are fairly redundant with other therapies that are already available,” said Dr. Joseph Ross, an associate professor of medicine and public health at Yale University School of Medicine. “Many of these, you could call me-too drugs.”

In almost all cases, older, cheaper products are available to treat the same conditions. Companies typically try to differentiate the new drugs by claiming they are easier to use; carry fewer side effects; work faster than competitors; or have medical advantages.

The makers of Pradaxa, Xarelto and Eliquis, for example, say their drugs are at least as effective as Coumadin for certain conditions but do not require routine blood tests or limitations on what patients can eat. (Patients taking Coumadin, also known as warfarin, shouldn’t eat grapefruit or cranberries and have to limit green leafy vegetables in their diet.)

Officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers Open Payments, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug industry trade group, said they had not analyzed the data in order to rank spending by drug.

When told of ProPublica’s analysis, John Murphy, PhRMA’s assistant general counsel, said drug makers’ spending should be seen not only as a marketing strategy, but also as a way of ensuring the best treatment options for patients. “On paper, a drug may not look like it is monumentally better than another drug, but to an individual patient, it might be,” Mr. Murphy said.

* Note: General Payment figures do not include royalties. Source: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Food and Drug Administration, ProPublica reporting

According to ProPublica’s analysis, Victoza, a diabetes medication made by Novo Nordisk, was the drug associated with the most payments to doctors, by dollar amount. The company spent more than $9 million on physician interactions related to Victoza in the last five months of 2013, excluding research payments and royalties, which relate more to drug development than marketing. (ProPublica created a tool that lets you look up any drug, device or company and compare it with any other.)

Victoza, through a once-a-day injection, helps lower blood sugar among diabetics, but researchers and advocacy groups have said drugs of its class carry an increased risk of thyroid cancer and pancreatitis. Dr. Todd Hobbs, chief medical officer of Novo Nordisk in North America, said the company’s spending reflected Victoza’s newness and the need to address such safety concerns.

“We just received a huge amount of interest and questions and need for education,” Hobbs said, referring to inquiries by health care professionals, particularly primary care doctors. “You see the fruits of that in this report.”

Eliquis, the anticoagulant jointly marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer, ranked second in its link to spending on physicians, with nearly $8 million, our analysis showed. In a statement, the companies said their spending helps ensure physicians understand the appropriate use of Eliquis. Because the drug is prescribed by physicians in different specialties, the statement said, “it is critical to have a speaker program that adequately provides robust education to these physicians.”

The drug associated with the third-most payments to doctors was Brilinta, a different type of blood thinner made by AstraZeneca that vies for sales with Plavix, which is now available generically. In an email, AstraZeneca said it had identified Brilinta as one of its “key platforms for growth” and increased speaker and research spending on it. “Physicians are also indispensable partners in our efforts to bring new medicines to patients,” the company said.

ProPublica has tracked drug companies’ payments to doctors since 2009 through a searchable database called Dollars for Docs. But this covers only 17 companies, most of which have been compelled to release this information under legal settlements with the government. It has no information from medical device makers.

The list of most promoted drugs featured many recent arrivals: 14 of the top 20 were approved by the Food and Drug Administration since 2010. Some treat similar conditions, including diabetes, schizophrenia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, so the competition among them is fierce. “They’re fighting over the same doctors, I guarantee you,” said Rhonda Greenapple Simoff, founder of a consulting firm that advises pharmaceutical companies in Bernardsville, N.J.

Largely absent from the top of the list were drugs that cure disease, such as a new class of hepatitis C treatments, or those that significantly extend life, particularly for cancer patients. If a drug is either the first to treat a disease or is much better than existing drugs, said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, the founder and now senior adviser to Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, “they ‘sell themselves’ on the merits of their unique benefits.”

According to ProPublica’s analysis, a few of the most heavily promoted drugs, including Samsca, which treats low sodium levels in the blood, have serious side effects that came to light after their approval by the federal government. The manufacturers of several others, including Copaxone, Latuda, Xarelto, Daliresp and Humira, have been faulted by the F.D.A. for improper promotion.

Subsys, approved in 2012 to treat cancer pain, ranked 23rd in spending on doctors. It’s often prescribed for off-label, or unapproved, uses; in November, The New York Times reported that some of the doctors paid the most to promote the drug had disciplinary or legal troubles. In a statement to The Times, Insys Therapeutics, the drug’s maker, said its marketing of Subsys was appropriate.

The medical device associated with the most payments to doctors was Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci surgical robot system, which the company has marketed as an effective, less invasive option for an array of procedures. Critics have complained that the device is needlessly expensive and overused, and say it has been linked to patient complications and deaths.

Intuitive spent nearly $12.8 million on physician interactions to promote the robot in the last five months of 2013, not including royalties and research. The spokeswoman Paige Bischoff said in an email that about half of the company’s outlays for education and training were “pass through” spending: Surgeons or hospitals paid the company for services, and the company, in turn, paid doctors to provide them.

Dr. Robert Takla, an emergency room physician in the Detroit area, earned about $75,000 in the last five months of 2013 by delivering promotional talks about several of the most heavily marketed anticoagulants and blood thinners, particularly Brilinta, according to Open Payments.

He said he enjoys speaking on behalf of companies and thinks he offers a different perspective than cardiologists and internists 2014 the usual prescribers of the drugs 2014 because he treats complications of blood clots in the emergency room.

Dr. Takla said he reviews clinical studies before deciding to speak for a drug and turns companies down when he isn’t impressed. He said he no longer spoke on behalf of Pradaxa because of what he characterized as public backlash against it, driven by a spate of lawsuits against its manufacturer, Boehringer-Ingelheim. (The company agreed to pay $650 million last year to settle the suits.) He accepts fees to speak about Xarelto, a drug he has taken himself for a deep vein thrombosis.

“It’s a very fertile and very robust marketplace right now,” he said of the anticoagulants.

News applications developer Mike Tigas contributed to this report.

Methodology: How we calculated company payments to doctors

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