Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Echinacea Study

Once again the news media has been filled with reports of yet another complementary therapy failing to meet scientific standards. This time it was the popular herbal remedy echinacea. However as usual it helps to get the whole story, especially in an age when 80% of the most common type of medical research is later refuted. (See earlier blog.)

If you make it to the last few paragraphs of the story you discover the study was limited to one county in Wisconsin. It relied on the cold sufferers to report on their own condition instead of a standardized measurement. Since there was a much wider range of cold severity and duration than expected the trial may have been insufficient to account for the full range of information.

In the words of the researchers: "The [confidence intervals] of between-group differences allow for the possibility of a 24-hour reduction in duration and a 20% reduction in overall severity attributable to echinacea, both of which might be accepted as clinically significant by many persons with the common cold," they stated.

So who says there isn't any benefit?

Friday, December 17, 2010

FDA Revokes Avastin

Once again a drug approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has later been proven to not be worth the risk. This time the FDA even pulled its approval of Avastin for treating breast cancer. Later studies showed the drug to be unsafe. There were "significant" increases in serious side effects with the drugs use including blood clots, bleeding and even heart failure.

Avastin is the world's best-selling cancer drug with global sales of $5.8 billion making it the top product for Roche. The drug is used to treat more than 17,000 breast cancer patients every year. It can still be used to treat tumors in the colon, lung, kidney and brain. Doctors could even continue to use it for breast cancer by using it "off-label" even though the FDA recommends against it. Avastin is also one of the most expensive cancer drugs in the world. It costs a patient (or their insurance company) about $8,000 PER MONTH for treatment.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Life Expectancy Dips

Data from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows the life expectancy for Americans slipped last year. A baby born in 2008 can expect to live 77.8 years, down from 77.9 years. Similar dips have happened in 2005 and in 1993 so it will take a few more years of data to see if this is a trend.

No reason was given for the decline in life expectancy.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Health Care Cost Fight Continues

The battle to control rising health care costs continues. One of the current battles is being waged in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas is locked in negotiations with one of the largest hospital networks, Texas Health Resources, over cost increases.

The average family health insurance policy in Texas cost $13,225 in 2009, a figure that is equal to 22% of median household income in the state. To put it in perspective, it's an increase of 38% since 2003. Deductibles in Texas went up by more than 80%. (By comparison health care now consumes nearly 17% of America's GDP.)

Who's going to blink first? The insurance company doesn't want to lose customers because they can't use their favorite hospital in-network but health care costs have to be controlled. The 24-hospital network doesn't want to lose customers because they're now out-of-network either. This area, and America, simply cannot afford to watch health care costs continue to escalate.

There are no easy answers to this problem as we saw last year in the health care reform debate. With Republicans coming into power in a few weeks the debate will begin again. The voters and tax payers of America simply cannot afford to sit by and let special interests, lobbyists and others in Washington decide our fate.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Health Care Reform Benefit

One of the overlooked features of the current health care reform effort is the initiative to boost the quality of care, hopefully while reducing the cost. The 10-year, $10 billion program hasn't attracted a lot of attention, perhaps because of its growing support across a wide spectrum. This seems to be something almost everyone can agree on.

Improving the quality of health care is important not only because it will save thousands of lives each year but also because poor quality care costs more. Dr. Donald Berwick, head of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, was quoted recently as saying that 1 of every 7 Medicare patients who is hospitalized suffers harm from a medical error. That's TERRIBLE!

A new Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation plans to work with physicians in 8 states to better coordinate care. (Too bad Texas isn't one of them.) At least it's a start.