Essential Updates: Comp Medical News for May

Welcome to this month’s Comp Medical News recap. Antibiotics, Silicon Valley investment in telemedicine and medical errors are your headlines for May 2016.


First, glitches in patient care, both major and minor, were fodder for intense criticism of hospitals:




Study Finds One in Three U.S. Antibiotics Prescriptions are Unnecessary

Nearly a third of antibiotics prescribed in American healthcare facilities are not needed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pew Charitable Trust. The finding, which has implications for antibiotics’ diminished efficacy (so-called “superbugs”), translates to about 47 million unnecessary prescriptions written each year across the country to children and adults. Most often, the unnecessarily prescriptions are linked to conditions that do not respond to antibiotics, such as colds, sore throats, bronchitis, flu and other viral illnesses.

Read more from The Washington Post here.


Medical Error Found to Be the Number Three Cause of Death in the Country

A study by researchers from John Hopkins Medicine claims that medical error is actually the third leading cause of death – just behind heart disease and cancer. According to an NPR report, the authors, led by Johns Hopkins surgeon Dr. Martin Makary, call for changes in death certificates to better tabulate fatal lapses in care. In an open letter, they urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to immediately add medical errors to its annual list reporting the top causes of death. Based on an analysis of prior research, the Johns Hopkins study estimates that more than 250,000 Americans die each year from medical errors. On the CDC’s official list, that would rank just behind heart disease and cancer, which each took about 600,000 lives in 2014, and in front of respiratory disease, which caused about 150,000 deaths.

Read complete coverage from NPR here.


Insurer’s Hospital Claims Study Corroborates Johns Hopkins Report

After the release of the John Hopkins study, the “CNA Hospital Professional Liability Claim Report 2015: Stepping Up to Quality Healthcare and Patient Safety” was published, identifying patient death as the most common injury in closed claims over a 10-year period from January 2005 through December 2014. The Johns Hopkins researchers said that most medical errors are due to poorly coordinated care, fragmented insurance networks, the absence or underuse of safety nets and other protocols, in addition to unwarranted variation in physician practice patterns that lack accountability. The report by the Chicago-based commercial insurer found that death claims comprised 34.3 percent of closed claims for its hospital entities on its books.

Read more from Insurance Journal here. Read the CNA report here.


Next, the struggle to grapple with opioid dependence – and its grip on the nation – continues to produce new investigations of both the pharmaceutical and treatment industries:


Length of Active Time and the Misconception of Long Acting Opioids as Less Addictive Drugs Linked to Big Pharma Manipulation

Vice reporter Maia Szalavitz assessed the data manipulation and history behind Purdue Pharma’s 1990s claim that its blockbuster long-acting opioid, OxyContin, was not likely to produce addiction. In addition to the fact that the drug did not last as long as Purdue said it did, the science of addiction was repeatedly ignored. Szalavitz determines that the failure to incorporate that science has contributed to addiction primarily in vulnerable individuals and chronic pain patients in palliative care who should have had lower rates:

“Basically, addiction can’t occur unless your brain learns that a drug improves your state of mind somehow—typically by intensifying and accelerating experience (think stimulants like methamphetamine or cocaine) or slowing and numbing it (think depressants like alcohol and opioids). The more frequently you associate a drug with feeling better, the more that learning gets internalized. This means a short-acting drug, one that produces a series of highs and lows, will be more addictive due to repetition alone than a longer-acting one will be. And the relative intensity of the up-and-down experience will also increase risk.”

The fact that OxyContin lasted for far less time than promised led patients to dependency in numbers that were not anticipated, feeding today’s opioid epidemic.

Read the whole piece here.


States, Feds Pushing to Make Naloxone More Accessible

Mother Jones addressed the expansion of naloxone (often known by the name-brand Narcan) to personnel outside of hospitals, including police officers, paramedics and users and their families. Facts about the drug have been scattered, but as more states expand access, the “miracle drug” could prove commonplace. Mother Jones notes the history of the drug and the rise of the nasal spray formulation, as well as how much financial might the Obama administration has dedicated to it.

Read the rundown here.


Opioids Epidemic Fueling Rising Hospital Costs

New research published in Health Affairs measured how many people were hospitalized between 2002 and 2012 because they were abusing heroin or prescription painkillers, and how many of them got serious infections related to their drug use. It also tracked what hospitals charged to treat those patients and how the hospitals were paid. The findings revealed that hospitalizations related to use and dependence on opioids have skyrocketed, from about 302,000 in 2002 to about 520,000 a decade later. During the same time period, the number of these patients who had dangerous infections, like endocarditis or septic arthritis, increased from about 3,400 to 6,535. As the numbers rose, these patients became even more expensive to treat. Hospitals charged almost $15 billion in 2012 for opioid-related inpatient care – more than double what they billed in 2002, even after accounting for inflation. More than $700 million of that went to treating patients with the associated infections. Many were uninsured or on Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for low-income people.

Read further details via Kaiser Health News here.


Last, telemedicine is catching on among the tech illuminati, despite early failures:


Google and Apple See Renewed Potential in Telemedicine

Telecom companies including AT&T and Verizon have already invested in and attempted to implement telemedicine programs for some time, claiming that it could revolutionize access to care and cut costs. Now, Apple and Google are trying that hand at developing the notion. Insurance Journal reports that Google parent company Alphabet Inc. is developing wearable devices embedded with sensors, such as a contact lens that monitors glucose levels. Apple supports developers of apps that track consumers’ health data, sharing the information directly with doctors. And dozens of startups such as Omada Health Inc., Doctor on Demand Inc. and Amwell are helping people lose weight and connect with other patients, coaches or doctors.

Read more about the trend and industry skepticism here.


Image Credit: ZME Science

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