kaiser-drugs-300x225Big Pharma and medical device makers have mastered the art of crying “Poor me!” complaining without end about the time and costs of getting products to the market and the need for regulators to lighten up. New information, however, undercuts this industry whine—and it reminds that the nation’s watchdogs need, if anything, to be tougher and more vigilant.

Let’s start with new research, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, that calls into question Big Pharma’s long-espoused position that its whopping prices (which the public wants official action on—see graphic) are warranted because a new drug costs upward of $3 billion to research and develop. But based on a scrutiny of public information about expenses to develop 10 new cancer drugs—among the most costly to get to market—researchers found drug makers’ R&D costs were far less — closer to $650 million.

Although independent experts praised the new study, drug makers challenged the cheaper R&D estimates, with backing from Tufts researchers’ who had set the earlier, pricier benchmark. It’s difficult to make apples and oranges comparisons. That’s because Big Pharma wants any tally of its drug development expenses to include its costly failures.

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As the 40th President of the United States used to mutter, well, there they go again.

The Republicans in the 115th Congress apparently will make another go at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, what may be their 70-something such try. It may come in the form of legislation advanced by GOP Senators Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

The so-called Graham-Cassidy bill, which analysts say would slash tens of millions of Americans from health coverage, cut tens of billions of dollars in federal aid for health care, and convert the ACA into state-controlled block grant funding, must overcome major obstacles to advance.

IBM_Watson-300x201Watson_bruce-150x150Technology is  transforming medicine without a doubt, but its proponents—including one of the computing industry’s titans—may be getting ahead of themselves in boasting about their devices’ capacities.

Stat, the online health information news site that had a rocky week of its own, deserves credit for reporting  that IBM at present is overselling the medical capacities of its Watson super computer.

Big Blue’s “Dr. Watson,” promoted as an innovative, speedy, and influential diagnostician and medical advisor nonpareil, may be more like the Dr. Watson played by Nigel Bruce in black and white Sherlock Holmes movies starring Basil Rathbone. Watson’s pleasant, records what somebody more important is doing, and, occasionally, with bumbling good luck, he stumbles his way into valuable insight.

jcgoldseal-300x300The nation’s leading watchdog of hospital safety and quality  is quick to hand out its “Gold Seal of Approval” and rarely penalizes care-giving institutions, even when state and federal officials find serious problems.

The Wall Street Journal deserves credit for its investigation of the Joint Commission, the nonprofit and industry-supported organization that is supposed to inspect and accredit hospitals nationwide. It does so for 80 percent of them, as well as for institutions serving military veterans, federal prisoners, and Native American patients in the Indian Health System.

Hospitals can either join the commission and undergo its accreditation process—including regular inspections that typically are announced in advance, conducted with flourish, and which can cost institutions tens of thousands of dollars depending on their size and membership levels—or they can be inspected by state and federal officials. Most choose the Joint Commission.

mapsample-159x300MapOverview-300x205Patrick Malone & Associates has a new tool for patients to easily check out how their hospital stacks up on quality and safety measures.

The tool is on our website here, and covers all hospitals in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, including northern Virginia, the Maryland suburbs of DC and the District of Columbia itself.

When you click on the link, you will see a map of the DC area with hospital locations pinned.  Click on any hospital, and a small window will open up giving you an array of stats. Each statistic has an arrow next to it–  up for “better than average” and down for “worse than average.  Our site features these quality measures:

hookworms-300x201It can be too easy to forget the unfortunate, inequitable legacy of the Old South, especially how racist Dixie created stark racial health disparities. But sometimes a foreigner’s jab in the ribs can remind us how making America great again could mean tending much better to our collective p’s and q’s in public health, especially so poor, rural people of color don’t get tropical parasite infections and they do get reasonable access to critical maternal care.

The Guardian, a British news outlet, has pointed out that new, published research shows a disgusting resurgence in Americans, notably in Alabama, testing positive for hookworms, a debilitating “gastrointestinal parasite that was thought to have been eradicated from the U.S. decades ago.”

As the Guardian reports:

Medicine and law enforcement can be a combustible combination, as a widely publicized incident in a Utah emergency room has reminded. The ugly incident has underscored the importance of hospitals keeping big, upset guys with guns cordoned off from caregivers, as well as the importance of front-line medical personnel knowing, respecting, and protecting patients’ privacy rights about their medical treatment.

Nurse Alex Wubbels became a heroine for firmly and politely telling Salt Lake detectives that the law forbade them from ordering blood extraction and testing on patient William Gray. The unconscious truck driver turned out to be a reserve cop in a nearby small town, and he had been involved in a crash connected to a high-speed chase by Salt Lake officers.

Heroin-Fentanyl-vials-NHSPFL-1600x900-300x169A Missouri  Senator has accused Insys Therapeutics, a major drug maker, of conducting a sneaky campaign to get more pain-wracked cancer patients to use its synthetic and super powerful opioid drug, thus helping to fuel the wildfire spread of increasingly lethal and debilitating prescription pain killers.

Sen. Claire McCaskill and investigators from a Senate committee, as well as federal prosecutors, have painted a harsh picture of how Insys created a special unit to boost sales and use of Subsys, its spray form of the potent painkiller fentanyl.

Through an elaborate ruse—which included carefully crafted scripts and bogus phone numbers—Insys workers contacted prescription benefit management (PBM) firms, making them believe they were patients seeking a required pre-approval for their doctors to prescribe them Subsys.

vision1-300x200With youngsters now back to school, it’s worth noting how attention to seemingly small matters can make big differences in children’s health, well-being and academic achievement.

Kudos to Politico, the much-followed national political news web site, for following up on an excellent Baltimore initiative to test and improve school kids’ vision, including providing them with glasses if they need them. The idea here is simple and worth support: How can kids read, study, and excel if they don’t see well? Don’t they need help with glasses, which aren’t cheap and as accessible as they could be, especially for poorer youngsters?

That’s what led to the establishment of Vision for Baltimore—a public-private coalition that includes the city health department and public schools, Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins School of Education, eyeglass retailer Warby Parker, and a national nonprofit called Vision To Learn. As Politico has reported, the group has set up a program with:

nursinghome-300x200With more Americans than previously thought needing care in the nation’s nursing homes, will more of us start to pay greater attention to the unacceptable and under-reported elder abuse occurring there? And with calamities like Hurricane Harvey fresh in mind, will more sons and daughters, nephews and nieces, and other friends and loved ones take a bit of time now to think how safe their elder relatives’ care facilities might be and where they might go in catastrophic circumstance?

Although most previous research has indicated that just 35 percent of Americans will use a nursing home in later life, new study by the independent, nonpartisan RAND Corporation indicates that figure may be far too low. More than half (56 percent) of those now aged 57 to 61 will spend at least a night and likely much more time in nursing home care, RAND researchers found.

If seniors need the care, they stay on average 272 nights in nursing homes, though 10 percent of the population the researchers studied spent more than 1,000 nights in such facilities.

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