Articles Posted in Hospitals

drughearing-300x172As tens of thousands of Americans die from overdoses and many millions struggle with skyrocketing prescription medication costs, lawmakers and regulators in the nation’s capital plodded along with procedural steps they claimed would help attack what voters insist are some of their top public policy priorities.

On Capitol Hill, seven of Big Pharma’s top executives danced and dodged with members of a U.S. Senate Committee about who is to blame for the relentless rise and unaffordable cost of American drugs. Media reports of the Senate Finance hearing called it “political theater,” and it offered lawmakers a chance to vent at execs from AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer, and Sanofi.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the senior Democrat on the committee from Oregon (shown above), blasted Big Pharma, telling the stone-faced corporate suits arrayed before him, “You’re willing to sit by and hose the American consumer while giving price breaks to consumers overseas,” the New York Times reported. He added that Big Pharma attempts to justify its prices, when so many patients cannot afford them, are “morally repugnant.” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) decried sky-high U.S. drug prices, especially compared with lower rates for patients elsewhere, saying, “It is almost as if the taxpayer has ‘stupid’ written on their face.”

davincirobot-300x176The federal Food and Drug Administration finally has pushed back at surgeons and hospitals for experimenting on patients, spending $3 billion a year for surgical robots. The devices should not be used for mastectomies and other cancer-related procedures without caution, regulators warn.

The FDA acted after studies have shown that minimally invasive procedures for early-stage cervical cancer, many robot-aided, were more likely than standard, large-incision surgeries to result in recurrences of the disease and deaths.

Regulators also may have been prodded by their poor history in halting harms to women with so-called keyhole procedures, particularly the nightmares the FDA was slow to react to involving minimally invasive hysterectomies and a tissue-grinding tool called a morcellator.

fentanylA steady flow of news reports shows how our nation’s opioid crisis can be fairly blamed on just about every actor in the medical field that should have known better: Big Pharma, doctors, hospitals, and regulators. It’s been a toxic mix of incompetence, indifference and out-and-out  deceptive conduct that produced the epidemic that now claims tens of thousands of American lives each year.

Take, for instance, the drug fentanyl, a lab-created painkiller 100 times more powerful than morphine. How did it escape the confines of legitimate prescription pain control to become a killer street drug? The Washington Post reports, based on research from Johns Hopkins experts, on how doctors, hospitals, and the federal Food and Drug Administration bungled a plan to safeguard the administration of this highly potent drug that had obvious abuse potential from the day it came onto the market.

Meantime, two other news organizations — the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative website Pro Publica and the online health site Stat — have pried loose disturbing, sealed court testimony, showing how a wealthy, philanthropic family approved a lethal deceit about the potency of OxyContin, a billion-dollar opioid pushed relentlessly by Purdue, the Big Pharma firm they owned.

hospitalprices-300x162Patients and reformers attacking skyrocketing health care costs may want to focus less on doctors and more on big, shiny hospitals, where in just five years prices soared by 42 percent for inpatient care versus the still sizable 18 percent price hikes that MDs scored.

Those findings are part of a new study that examined medical costs based on actual payments, focusing on common procedures like deliveries of babies (vaginal and cesarean), colonoscopies, and knee replacements.  “Hospital prices grew much faster than physician prices for inpatient and outpatient hospital-based care in the period 2007–14 … The same pattern was present for all four of our procedures,” wrote the researchers from Yale, MIT, and Carnegie Mellon. They found that hospital costs also spiked for outpatient care, increasing 25 percent, versus 6 percent for doctors.

This meant that for a knee replacement costing $30,000 or so, the doctors’ mean price was almost $4,900, while the hospital price was almost $25,000. For a $13,000 C-section, the doctor’s mean price was $4,600, while the figure for hospitals was $8,300. These numbers were derived from analyzing hundreds of thousands of procedures.

HepatitisCInvestigators have teased out yet another damaging thread in the villainous web of harms of the opioid crisis. A spike in hepatitis C infections is a costly, long-term, and major health consequence of the hype and disastrous reformulation of OxyContin, the powerful painkiller made by Purdue Pharmaceuticals owned by the wealthy Sackler family.

Purdue, in the 1990s, promoted and sold OxyContin to doctors and hospitals in a relentless campaign that stressed how this drug was supposedly safer and longer acting, releasing its potent effects over as long as a 12-hour span instead of requiring many pills that needed to be taken more often.

Although those claims of the drug’s benefits were dubious to start, patients — especially those abusing the highly addictive prescription medication — found they could get around OxyContin’s delayed release, getting an immediate jolt or walloping high, by crushing their pills. They then snorted Oxy as a powder or mixed it with a liquid and injected it.

headmri-300x300When patients experience bad headaches, severe chest pain, back or neck aches, or even when kids come in with gut pain that likely is appendicitis, doctors too readily push them into and through what may be hospitals’ over-sized cash-generating machines. It’s past time to end wasteful use of high-powered imaging systems, experts from the Mayo Clinic and Stanford University say.

Drs. Ohad Oren, Electron Kebebew, and John Ioannidis have called out their medical colleagues in an opinion piece published in the medical journal JAMA over excess computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), saying conditions can’t justify why Americans undergo these costly scans at many times the rate, for example, that Finns do.

Research shows diagnoses don’t improve with many more MRIs and CTs. Instead, they may lead to yet more costly, invasive, and unnecessary tests and procedures, some of which can harm patients.

bathrobe-300x188Already-admitted patients shouldn’t be flummoxed if they’re moved into a bigger, quieter, and nicer room. There, a fluffy complimentary robe may await them. They may receive a warm welcome from well-attired executives — those senior enough so their pictures may even hang in pictures on the hall walls. And, yes, make no mistake, their nurses and doctors really will be kind and attentive.

Welcome to high-roller care as it’s delivered now to a select few by staff in at least three score big hospitals and academic medical centers nationwide, including Johns Hopkins and MedStar Health in Columbia, Md.

You won’t necessarily seek out or request this special attention. It turns out that hospitals will know you’re posh enough to merit it because loopholes in privacy laws allow them, using special software, to run regular searches through patient rosters to determine which guests also might be potential and lucrative donors, reported the independent, nonprofit Kaiser Health News service in a story that appeared in the New York Times. You also may allow the pitches because, likely unbeknownst to you, you signed a form giving your permission for it in that mountain of admission paperwork.

mesh-300x134
Tens of thousands of women complain that a surgery to implant mesh to bolster weak abdominal tissue, instead has inflicted on them incontinence, chronic pelvic pain as well as pains in the groin, hip, and leg, and with intercourse. Others say they suffer complications as if they had the immune system attacking disease lupus, leaving them with persistent runny noses, muscle pain, fogginess, and lethargy.

The federal Food and Drug Administration in mid-February will convene its expert panel on women’s reproductive surgeries to see advice on next steps in what has become a legal and medical morass over transvaginal mesh operations.

As many as 4 million women globally have undergone mesh surgeries to treat urinary incontinence and weakening of walls in the abdominal area that causes prolapses, the Washington Post reported, quoting a UCLA reconstructive expert as estimating that 5 percent — or 150,000 to 200,000 — of those patients have experienced complications.

abraarkaranmdWell, just because.

That isn’t a great answer for cranky toddlers with too many questions. It’s also an unacceptable but real reason why too many hospitalized patients get woken up in the middle of the night and subjected 24/7 to expensive, invasive, and often unnecessary tests and procedures.

Abraar Karan (right), an internal medicine resident at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital/ Harvard Medical School, has blogged with welcome candor about doctors’ casual acceptance of medical routines that not only discomfit but also can harm patients. As he wrote online for BMJ (aka the British Medical Journal): “The reality of medicine is that there are many things we as doctors do for absolutely no reason. That is to say, there is no evidence (randomized controlled trial or otherwise) for doing them, other than ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’”

artsacklerdc-300x129A plutocratic clan that has labored to portray itself as enlightened patrons of the arts, science, and medicine, instead has been depicted in new court documents as drug profiteers, eager to exploit the misery and even deaths of tens of thousands of Americans.

The stories in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and at the online medical science news site Stat paint a damning picture of the Sackler family and their avarice with the family-owned Big Pharma firm Purdue. The company made the clan billions of dollars but also has become the focus of news stories, official investigations, and now a barrage of lawsuits, all asserting that Purdue played a crucial role in fomenting the nation’s opioid drug crisis.

The Sacklers had sought to distance themselves from the horrors unleashed by powerful opioid painkillers, including their company’s top-selling drug OxyContin. The opioid crisis last year alone claimed 70,000 lives, and the prescription and illicit painkillers of their ilk have become a leading cause of death for Americans younger than 50. Overdoses now savage white men, especially in ex-urban and rural areas; women 30 and older; blacks in big cities; and even children.

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