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fdanulogo-300x126As snarky youngsters might say, “Well, OK, Boomer:” Federal watchdogs keep looking more than a little pitiful as they find they not only have fallen behind the times but keep racing to chase trends and technologies that have zoomed beyond their control.

In the meantime, consumers suffer the consequences.

Recent news reports show, for example, how vaping youths already may have found a big work-around with federal crackdowns on e-cigarettes and how social media has become a viper’s nest of not only quackery but a dubious diamond mine for Big Pharma exploitation.

alexahhs-150x150Federal regulators may be on the brink of not only protecting but also advancing patients access and use of a key component of their care: their electronic health records. Or will bureaucrats fold up in the face of a muscle campaign by corporate interests and hospitals?

To its credit, the giant Health and Human Services agency has emphasized that it is moving forward in its announced plans to prepare new regulations on so-called EHRs, pressing patients’ rights and newer, and potentially more nimble tech firms’ abilities to make the information in the records more accessible and helpful.

But Epic, the giant software company that has installed electronic systems in hospitals and health systems nationwide — often for billions of dollars — is leading resistance to the new rules. It has convinced dozens of institutions and groups, some sizable, to lobby officials to oppose this federal intervention.

practicefusion-300x169Federal prosecutors have provided 145 million reasons why enthusiasts may want to curb their exuberance about how high tech will work miracles in the U.S. health care system.

That’s because investigators have ferreted out “abhorrent” conduct by Practice Fusion, a San Francisco firm that specialized in electronic health care records software, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Vermont.

“During the height of the opioid crisis, the company took a million-dollar kickback to allow an opioid company to inject itself in the sacred doctor-patient relationship so that it could peddle even more of its highly addictive and dangerous opioids,”  Christina E. Nolan, U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont, said in a statement. Practice Fusion, she added,  “illegally conspired to allow [a] drug company to have its thumb on the scale at precisely the moment a doctor was making incredibly intimate, personal, and important decisions about a patient’s medical care, including the need for pain medication and prescription amounts.”

cdctbi-300x213The nation’s commander-in-chief did a big disservice to recently injured service personnel and others who have suffered traumatic brain injuries by dismissing what happened as “not very serious” and just “headaches” of little consequence.

Pentagon officials sought to deflect attention from President Trump’s comments at a global economic forum in Davos, Switzerland — off-the-cuff remarks assailed by veteran groups.

Trump, asked about the rising number of service personnel who have been sent for advanced diagnosis and treatment at facilities outside the Mideast, where they were subjected to an Iranian missile attack, made this counter factual comment:

califgovnewsomBig Pharma, with its relentless price gouging, may finally have poked in the eye the wrong people. But even as patients wait to see if hospitals, and now states and insurers, can beat down skyrocketing drug prices, isn’t it past time for more public shaming for doctors who persist in writing excessive, dubious, and downright risky prescriptions?

Although the Trump Administration and Republicans in Congress have failed to deliver on repeated promises to attack excessive costs for prescription drugs, the state of California and now leading insurers are following some hospitals in tackling the problem.

Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom (shown, above right), in unveiling his state budget, told lawmakers that he wants the Golden State to consider contracting with generic drug makers to produce products that would cost less and be sold under a California label. As the Los Angeles Times described the still-to-be fleshed out gubernatorial plan:

cdcinactivitymap2019-300x265Sure, it can be fun to watch two East Coasters take a long, sharp pin and pop the fantasy bubble that Westerners, especially Coloradans, like to float around in. Mountain state residents may like to tell themselves how the people on the Front Range skew young, educated, and active. How blue skies and open spaces keep folks busy and outdoors. And did they mention super healthy?

Or maybe not.

There’s a bigger takeaway in the recent focus on the Rockies by reporters Betsy McKay and Paul Overberg. As the Wall Street Journal duo found:

darrow-300x168For anyone concerned with the quality and safety of prescription medications, this may be an especially displeasing commentary from a pharmaceutical expert about drugs raced to approval now:  “Some of them are really great,” the professor observed. “And some of them [are] not so great. And a lot of them are very expensive.”

That quote, by the way, comes from a news report by NPR on so-called reforms of the federal Food Drug and Administration prescription drug oversight process. Big Pharma has howled for some time now at politicians, regulators, and the public for fixes to the system — and the industry has gotten its way.

Now, as NPR reported, based on a new study posted online on the JAMA Network:

HowardUhospital-300x126Big hospitals keep getting bigger. But, contrary to what the suit-wearing MBAs may claim, the rising number of institutional mergers and acquisitions isn’t necessarily better for patients and their care.

At hospitals subjected to corporate wheeling and dealing, the quality of care got worse, or, at best, it stayed the same and didn’t improve, a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported.

Researchers scrutinized federal data “from 2007 through 2016 on performance on four measures of quality of care … and data on hospital mergers and acquisitions occurring from 2009 through 2013,” they said. These measures, the Wall Street Journal reported, included: patient satisfaction; deaths within a month of entering the hospital; return trips to the hospital within a month of leaving; and how often some heart, pneumonia, and surgery patients got recommended care. They looked at 246 hospitals involved in M&A activity,  controlling their findings with data from 1,986 institutions not similarly affected.

hal9000-300x225In recent years, doctors, hospitals, and popular media have promoted emerging treatments to the public with enthusiasm that in each case would turn out to be overblown. Just consider the red-hot chatter that once surrounded regenerative medicine, precision medicine, gene therapy, or immunotherapy. And now, it may be the turn of artificial intelligence to be hyped hard in health care.

Caveat emptor, as Liz Szabo reported for the Kaiser Health News Service. She sets the stage, thusly, about developments in a field that might worry some who remember Hal 9000 from “2001: a Space Odyssey”:

“Health products powered by artificial intelligence, or AI, are streaming into our lives, from virtual doctor apps to wearable sensors and drugstore chatbots. IBM boasted that its AI could ‘outthink cancer.’ Others say computer systems that read X-rays will make radiologists obsolete. ‘There’s nothing that I’ve seen in my 30-plus years studying medicine that could be as impactful and transformative’ as AI, said Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and executive vice president of Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif. AI can help doctors interpret MRIs of the heartCT scans of the head and photographs of the back of the eye, and could potentially take over many mundane medical chores, freeing doctors to spend more time talking to patients, Topol said. Even the Food and Drug Administration ― which has approved more than 40 AI products in the past five years ― says ‘the potential of digital health is nothing short of revolutionary.’”

flavorvape-300x225The Trump Administration kicked off the new year with a whimper not a bang with yet another of its attempts to corral the health nightmare of e-cigarettes and vaping by the nation’s young, while not upsetting the industry too much.

Starting Feb. 1, the federal government announced it will forbid the sale of most flavored cartridges for e-cigarette use, notably those with popular tastes like candy, fruits, and mint.

At the same time, though, vendors still can sell menthol and tobacco flavorings. And they can peddle flavored vaping liquids if they are used in the open tank systems that most often are so big, they are limited to shops or stores.

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