In my last post I characterized how overdoses from the surging opioid epidemic have become the fastest-growing cause of mortality among organ donors. In this update, I raise one potential consequence with ethical and policy implications: so-called donor-derived infections. To be clear, I focus primarily on organ recipients as deaths from drug overdose, and drug addiction more broadly, should be prevented regardless of any implications for transplantation. With this in mind, consider how the population of injection drug users shoulders a heavy burden of HIV, hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) (Table 1). First I will focus on screening guidelines, and then will move on to transplantation of organs known to carry an infection.
Screening guidelines can help reduce the incidence of donor-derived infections, but the lab tests recommended in any policy must balance two potential concerns. First, lab tests have a rate of false negative results. Transplants of these organs will accidentally increase donor-derived infections. The policy question, then, is whether or not transplanting organs donated by individuals with higher risk of recent disease exposure will expose an unacceptable proportion of recipients to infection. This unintentional harm could undermine a duty of non-maleficence to organ recipients. Further complicating a potential screening policy is that the basic lab tests for HIV, HBV, and HCV detect the presence of human antibodies, which work well among a low-risk population, but antibodies might not appear in the blood until weeks after infection (Table 2).Recent infections are better detected by nucleic acid amplification (NAT) testing.To mitigate risk of infection,then, transplant screening policies should require a heightened level of surveillance among donors with a history of illicit drug use. Continue reading →
Martin Shkreli. Valeant Pharmaceuticals. Mylan. These names have become big news, but just a year ago, most Americans devoted little time and attention to the question of pharmaceutical pricing. Now, a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll released Oct. 27 suggests many people care more about the increasing prices of drugs than they do about any other aspect of health care reform.
Nearly three in four, or 74 percent of respondents, said that making sure that high-cost drugs for chronic conditions are affordable for patients should be a top priority for the next president and Congress. And 63 percent similarly said that government action to lower prescription drug prices should be a top priority.
This poll comes on the heels of highly publicized scandals involving individuals and companies who hike the prices of products like the EpiPen, a life-saving anaphylaxis treatment whose price roughly quintupled in five years, to more than US$600, or Daraprim, a drug used to treat parasitic infections whose price increased by 5,000 percent overnight. Continue reading →
Last month, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“CAFC”) handed down their decision on the case of McRO, Inc. v. Bandai Namco Games Am. Inc (Fed. Cir. Sep. 13, 2016) (“McRO”). Commentators have already hailed the decision as providing significant clarity and guidance on subject-matter eligibility for patents under 35 U.S.C. §101 (“§101”) and on pre-emption. It has been lauded by Erich Andersen of Microsoft for providing key guidance for software developers. Others have remarked on the implications for those seeking patents on methods of medical diagnosis. Though not binding on the Supreme Court (and by no means a guarantee of the direction that Court might eventually take), I believe inventors in the medical arena can draw critical guidance on drafting patent claims from McRO. The decision might also signal a shift in attitude in the CAFC, towards a much more welcoming view of diagnostic patents.
In this post, I’ll briefly address the facts and decision in McRO. During that discussion, I believe a discussion of the facts and decision of last year’s CAFC case of Ariosa Diagnostics, Inc. v. Sequenom, Inc. 788 F.3d 1377 (Fed Cir. 2015) (“Sequenom”) will be illustrative. I’ll then briefly compare the two and discuss what the implications might be for biomedical patents moving forward.
Robert M. Califf, MD, is the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. He is committed to strengthening programs and policies that enable the agency to carry out its mission to protect and promote the public health. The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation. Before joining the FDA in March 2015 as Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products and Tobacco, Dr. Califf ran the Duke Clinical Research Institute. He trained as a cardiologist.
Moderated by Amitabh Chandra, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
Sponsored by Harvard Kennedy School Healthcare Policy Program, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Institute of Politics
By Jonathan Larsen, JD, MPP and Adrienne R. Ghorashi, Esq.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first biosimilar for use in the United States in March 2015. The approval came after several years of regulatory process development authorized by the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation (BPCI) Act of 2009, a component of the Affordable Care Act.
Biosimilars are highly similar, but not identical, copies of FDA-approved biologics, known as “reference” products. Biologics are used to treat a variety of diseases and medical conditions, including cancer. For many years, biosimilar development was thought to be too complex and too costly to advance, and exclusivity patents for reference biologics prohibited developers from marketing competing biosimilars. Now that those patents have started to expire, biosimilar development can finally begin, at a potentially huge benefit to patients.
Concurrent, or overlapping, surgeries involve the simultaneous scheduling of substantial portions of two or more surgeries under the supervision of a single surgeon, requiring delegation of responsibility to trainees and assistants if necessary. The practice is not uncommon, especially at teaching hospitals, but patients often have no idea that their doctor may also be operating on someone else at the same time. This panel discussion will describe the practice, its risks and benefits, and recommended approaches to preserve patient trust and safety.
Griffith R. Harsh IV, MD, MA, MBA, FACS, Professor of Neurosurgery and Associate Dean, Postgraduate Medical Education, Stanford University – Surgeon’s Perspective: Pros and cons of concurrent scheduling, pressures to schedule this way, potential impact on patients, and the recent statement by the American College of Surgeons
I. Glenn Cohen, JD, Professor, Harvard Law School; Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center – Legal and ethical perspectives: Institutional risk, medical malpractice, informed consent, and applicable regulations
Moderator: Robert Truog, MD, Frances Glessner Lee Professor of Medical Ethics, Anaesthesia, & Pediatrics and Director, Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School; Executive Director, Institute for Professionalism & Ethical Practice and Senior Associate in Critical Care Medicine, Boston Children’s Hospital
There are some very interesting Government patient safety and access to justice policy development activities currently going on in England.
In maternity services, there is a clear recognition by Government that safety is inconsistent and that there is significant scope for improvement. Our still birth rates are amongst the highest in Europe despite the National Health Service (NHS) making advances in patient safety in this area. In the National Maternity Review we are reminded that half of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections of maternity services result in safety assessments that are either ‘inadequate’ (7%) or ‘requires improvement (41%) (page 22). The CQC is the independent regulator of health and social care in England.
In a speech to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in London, the Secretary of State for Health, 17th October, 2016, Jeremy Hunt laid out plans to make giving birth safer, including maternity safety funding and other related matters. The Government’s ambition is to halve neonatal death, stillbirth, maternal death and brain injuries caused during or shortly after labour by 2030 and a series of measures were launched. There will be a £250,000 maternity safety innovation fund and a new national Maternity and Neonatal Health Quality Improvement Programme. New maternity ratings will also be published to help improve transparency, raise standards and will give families better information about the quality of local maternity services.
Failures in assessing the patient properly for pressure ulcers can result in adverse incident reports, complaints and even litigation. A look at medical malpractice lawyer web sites in both the UK and USA will reveal a number of attorneys offering specialism in pressure sore litigation and publishing compensation awards. In the NHS poor pressure area care is a key patient safety issue and positive steps have been taken to reduce the occurrence of these incidents which can cause result in severe harm and even death to patients. The incidents also cost healthcare services a lot of money in remedying the problems of neglect.
The problem of poor pressure area care can also be seen in other countries. Health is a fairly generic concept, whilst the context of health care may well be different, valuable patient safety lessons can be learned from looking at the health quality reports of other countries. Developing an informed comparative patient safety perspective to issues can save both time and money by not reinventing the wheel.
Our guest this week is Larry Singer, Professor of Law and Director of the Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. Professor Singer is a nationally recognized expert on legal and strategic issues surrounding the organization of health care institutions. He has served as chair of a national health care system, and a board member of various charitable organizations. He has been inducted as a Fellow in the Institute of Medicine of Chicago.
Presentation: “Social Norms, Legal Foundations, and Noncommunicable Disease Prevention”
To request a copy of the paper in preparation for the workshop, please contact Jennifer Minnich at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lindsay Wiley is Associate Professor of Law at the Washington College of Law at American University. She teaches torts, health law, and public health law. Her research focuses on access to health care and healthy living conditions in the U.S. and globally. She serves on the Board of Directors of the American Society for Law, Medicine, and Ethics and the National Conference of Lawyers and Scientists. Prior to joining the faculty at WCL, Professor Wiley was the Global Health Law Program Director at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. She had also previously worked at the Center for Law and the Public’s Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the American Society for Law, Medicine, and Ethics, and Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman LLC in Baltimore, MD. She received her AB and JD from Harvard, where she served on the Harvard Law Review, and her MPH from Johns Hopkins.
As we approach the 2016 presidential election and change of administration, there are many questions about the future of health policy that the 45th President and Congress will have to address starting in 2017. This event brings together health care experts from both sides of the aisle to discuss what health care will – and should – look like under the next administration.
Suicide is one of today’s most pressing public health issues. It’s the second most common cause of death for those ages 15-34, and claims over 40,000 lives every year. Of those, a staggering 20,000 are the result of firearms. To put that in perspective, there are about 30,000 gun deaths overall in the United States each year, which means that self-inflicted fatalities make up over 60% of total domestic gun deaths. Of the most prevalent means of attempting suicide, firearms are by far the most lethal. Firearm suicide attempts end in death more than85% of the time, whereas attempts by drug overdose — the most common method — are only fatal 3% of the time.
While suicides by firearm have been on the rise in recent years, there may be an easy way to substantially reduce their incidence. A new study out of the University of Alabama Birmingham by Vars, et al., suggests that allowing individuals at risk of suicide to put themselves on a voluntary “Do-Not-Sell’ list, which would result in a waiting period before they could acquire a firearm, could be effective in preventing suicide attempts. The researchers surveyed 200 patients at both in- and out-patient psychiatric facilities who had disorders associated with anxiety and depression, and found that nearly half of them would put themselves on a list which would preclude them from quickly accessing firearms in the event that they were contemplating suicide. This is particularly notable given that these were all Alabama residents — a state that ranks in the top 10 of Guns and Ammo’s list of the best states for gun owners. In other states with more robust gun control and fewer gun enthusiasts, the Do-Not-Sell rate could very well be higher.
Presentation: “Regulating Black-Box Medicine.” To request a copy of the paper in preparation for the workshop, please email Jennifer Minnich at jminnich at law.harvard.edu.
Nicholson Price is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan School of Law, where he teaches Patents, Health Law, and first-year Property, among other courses. He was previously Assistant Professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. From 2012 to 2014 Nicholson was an Academic Fellow at the Petrie-Flom Center, where he studied innovation in the pharmaceutical industry, personalized medicine, and the issues surrounding secondary findings in genomic research. His work has been published in Science, the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology, Nature Biotechnology, the Boston College Law Review, and the Hastings Center Report, among others.
Nicholson received his JD from Columbia Law School in 2011, where he was a James Kent Scholar, was Submissions Editor of the Columbia Science and Technology Law Review, and twice received the Julius Silver Note Prize. He received his PhD in Biological Sciences, also from Columbia University, in 2010. He holds an AB in Biological Sciences from Harvard College. After law school, he clerked for Judge Carlos T. Bea of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and was a Visiting Consortium Scholar at the UCSF/UC Hastings Consortium on Law, Science and Health Policy.
Neuroscientist John Cacioppo, who has spent much of his career working on loneliness, defines “loneliness” as “perceived social isolation.” Similarly, Masi, et al. (following Russell, et al. 1980) define “loneliness” as “the discrepancy between a person’s desired and actual social relationships.” As Masi, et al., point out, there is a distinction to be made between loneliness, on the one hand, and social isolation, on the other, although the two phenomena may indeed often go together. Whereas social isolation “reflects an objective measure of social interactions and relationships,” loneliness “reflects perceived social isolation or outcast.” Following Peplau & Perlman 1982 and Wheeler, et al. 1983, they go on to point out that “loneliness is more closely associated with the quality than the number of relationships.” (It’s important and timely to note that the 2016 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Bob Dylan, brought out one application of this conceptual distinction in his song, “Marchin’ to the City,” when he sang: “Loneliness got a mind of its own / The more people around the more you feel alone.”)
The health risks posed by loneliness are several and can be severe. Loneliness can contribute to increased risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. In a 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis in Heart, Valtorta, et al., reported that “poor social relationships were associated with a 29% increase in risk of incident CHD [coronary heart disease] and a 32% increase in risk of stroke.” And in a March 2015 meta-analysis in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Holt-Lunstad, et al., reported that a substantial body of evidence supports the following two claims:
Loneliness puts one at greater risk for premature mortality. In particular, “the increased likelihood of death was 26% for reported loneliness, 29% for social isolation, and 32% for living alone.”
The heightened risk for mortality due to “a lack of social relationships” (whether reported loneliness, social isolation, or living alone) is greater than the risk due to obesity.
The surging opioid epidemic is a threat to the nation’s public health. This year the CDC reported that mortality from drug overdose reached an all-time high, with the annual death toll more than doubling since 2000. Yet in the backdrop of this epidemic, the country also faces ongoing shortages of a different sort–too few organs for transplantation. Every day, approximately 22 people die while waiting for an organ to become available. To some it is not a surprise–or at least not inconceivable–that the fastest-growing source of organ donors is being fueled by the national spike in drug overdoses. This first post will help delineate the scope and scale of the situation. My follow-up will discuss the ethical considerations and ramifications for public policy.
To start: the numbers. The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) makes domestic transplant data publicly available online, which currently extends from 1994 to September 30th, 2016. Two decades ago, 29 organ donors died from a drug overdose.* In just the first nine months of this year, that number has climbed to 888 donors. Even with a quarter of the calendar year left to be counted, 2016 has already surpassed previous record set in 2015 (Figure 1).
One might question whether this trend is an illusion–perhaps a rise in the incidence of donors who had overdosed reflects an increasing number of transplants. But the data suggest the opposite. Also plotted in Figure 1, the percentage of total organ donors who died from overdose (maroon diamonds, right-sided Y axis) has not remained constant–instead, the percentage has steadily increased. Two decades ago, overdose caused the deaths of 0.6% of all organ donors; this year, it is the cause of death among 12.0% of organ donors nationwide. The rising percentage means that not only are more victims of drug overdose donating organs, but that the pool of organ donors is increasingly composed of such individuals. Continue reading →
John James, PhD, became involved in the movement to bring greater attention to patient safety and rampant medical errors by way of tragedy. In 2002, Dr. James lost his 19-year-old son as a result of problematic care provided by cardiologists at a hospital in central Texas. A toxicologist by training, Dr. James taught himself cardiology in order to piece together the events that led to the death of his son despite an extensive evaluation by a team of cardiologists. His journey is chronicled in his book, “A Sea of Broken Hearts: Patient Rights in a Dangerous, Profit-Driven Health Care System.” From there, Dr. James became an advocate for patient safety and a crusader against medical errors. His website is called Patient Safety America.
Major media outlets around the globe extensively covered the recent British Medical Journal article showing that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US. In 2013, Dr. James published a related paper in the Journal of Patient Safety that showed how nearly 440,000 lives per year are lost to medical errors in the American healthcare system.
I wanted to provide Bill of Health readers with a summary of how Dr. James’s paper in many ways pre-saged and perhaps even exceeds the recent BMJ article. A KevinMD article provides further context in this debate.
We start with a special request to TWIHL listeners this week: please consider donating to Partners in Health’s Haitian hurricane relief efforts. It’s always a good time to donate to PIH.org, but especially now, in the wake of apocalyptic levels of destruction. In the southwest peninsula, over one million people are cut off from food, clean water, and medical care.
Our guest this week is Allison Hoffman, Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law and an expert in health care law and policy. Professor Hoffman’s work examines the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and retiree healthcare expenses, and long-term care. We discussed Allison’s recent work on long-term care, including the soon-to-be-published piece “Reimagining the Risk of Long-Term Care,” in the Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics. This is a particularly important topic in the wake of the collapse of the CLASS Act–an infrequently-lamented but very important shortcoming of the ACA.
The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy. Subscribe at iTunes, listen at Stitcher Radio, Tunein and Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app. Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw
In July, the Ninth Circuit held that Dignity Health, a faith-based hospital system in the southwest United States, was not exempt from the employee pension requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The hospital system decided in 1992 that it would consider itself a church for the purposes of ERISA, and therefore would qualify for ERISA’s church exemption and not have to provide fully funded or insured pensions for its employees. As a result of this decision, it underfunded its employees’ pensions to the tune of $1.2 billion.
The Ninth Circuit was the second to make such a ruling after the Seventh Circuit issued a similar decision against Advocate Health Care in March. Many thought these rulings would lead the Supreme Court to leave the issue alone, but that may not be what SCOTUS has in mind. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy recently granted Dignity reprieve from complying with the Ninth Circuit decision while he and the other justices decide whether to hear the case. Hopefully, this signals that the Court is planning to extend the Ninth Circuit’s decision, ensuring that hospital systems with religious affiliations across the country fulfill their responsibilities to their employees and provide them with the pensions they deserve.
Dignity Health is not a church. While it did have an official relationship with the Catholic Church until 2012, at the end of the day Dignity Health is a medical services juggernaut. It is the fifth-largest hospital system in the country, with 39 acute care hospitals and over 250 ancillary facilities spread across Arizona, Nevada, and California. Its annual revenue is approximately $10.5 billion. It’s so big that in 2012 it was included in an antitrust investigation by the California Attorney General’s Office to assess the impact of hospital consolidation on health care pricing in California.
Last week, a patent application in India was refused, apparently on the basis that the invention under review could have been used to counterfeit money. This practice of denying patents on the basis of public policy or morality is almost as old as the practice of granting patents. For example, the State of Monopolies was enacted in England in 1624 to prohibit monopolies where they would be “mischievous to the State”. In many other jurisdictions, patents on food and medicines were prohibited, on the basis that the public good served by these products outweighed any claims of monopoly rights by the inventor. The other approach is preferred in the US. Cases like Diamond v Chakrabarty removed much of the normative question from American patent law and it has been strongly argued that a patent application “is not an ethical event.”
Whether a patent can be refused on the basis of morality is a difficult enough question, but the problem is compounded once the “morality” in question is not confined to a single jurisdiction. The harmonization of patent law across Europe in the last fifty years has forced the European Patent Office (EPO) to consider how to make a moral judgement on behalf of all the contracting states to the European Patent Convention. Its approach has been neither consistent between cases nor consistent with the underlying treaties. I would like to give a quick sketch of the contrast between the European legal framework and its manifestation in the decisions of the EPO.
We can learn a lot from how other countries deal with patient safety issues and it can save us from reinventing the wheel at some financial cost.Healthcare improvement Scotland (HIS) is the national healthcare improvement organization for Scotland and is part of NHS Scotland. The organization provides some excellent patient safety resources. The work of HIS involves supporting and empowering people to have an informed voice in managing their own care and shaping how services are designed and delivered. Delivering scrutiny activity, providing quality improvement support and providing clinical standards, guidelines and advice. HIS produce a rich range of programmes and publications that are relevant to all those concerned with patient safety and health quality in England, USA and elsewhere.
A recent report from HIS focuses on the adverse event lessons learned by health boards and the improvements they subsequently put into place after the events,Learning from adverse events – Learning and improvement summary: May 2016 There is some very good thinking in the report which should be essential reading for all staff involved in patient safety policy development.