‘Safe spaces’ in adverse health incident investigation and patient complaints

By John Tingle

Two new reports, one by Action against Medical Accidents,(AvMA),the charity for patient safety and justice and the other by the Patient’s Association charity, (PA), highlight once again significant  problems with NHS (National Health Service) patient safety investigative and complaints structures and procedures.

The Department of Health, (DH) in 2016 produced a consultation paper which closed on 16th December 2016 on providing a ‘safe space’ in healthcare safety investigations.

This is linked to the new NHS, Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB),operational from April 2016, and when fully functional will  offer support and guidance to NHS organizations on investigations, and carry out certain investigations itself.Current Government policy is to consider the development of a ‘safe space’ in serious adverse health incident investigations. The Consultation paper stated:

“…many believe that the creation of a type of ‘strong wall’ around certain health service investigations, so that information given as part of an investigation would only rarely be passed on, would provide a measure of ‘psychological safety’ to those involved in investigation, allowing them to speak freely. This will enable lessons to be learned, driving improvement and ultimately saving lives.” (p.8). Read More

The 21st Century Cures Act: One of Many Reasons Why Today’s Executive Order Is Misguided

By Rachel Sachs

Today, President Trump signed an executive order (EO) whose purpose is ostensibly to reduce the regulatory burden imposed by the government on many different types of industries.  The EO envisions achieving this goal through an incredibly sophisticated strategy: “for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination.”  Not how burdensome any particular regulation is, or how old it is, or how broad it is – just how many regulations there are.

The next question, of course, is what the EO means by “regulation.”  It clearly includes traditional APA notice-and-comment rulemaking (the EO specifically calls out situations when an agency “publicly proposes for notice and comment” a regulation).  More generally, the EO does provide a definition: “For purposes of this order the term “regulation” or “rule” means an agency statement of general or particular applicability and future effect designed to implement, interpret, or prescribe law or policy or to describe the procedure or practice requirements of an agency.”

This sounds to me as if it includes guidance documents, which are used extensively by many agencies to set and implement policy. To be sure, it is not always clear what counts as a guidance document, and it is not always clear whether agencies are attempting to use guidance to circumvent the notice-and-comment rulemaking process.  But by many common definitions of guidance documents (including those put forth in executive orders by the Bush Administration, for instance), the term “regulation” as defined in this EO would seem to include guidance documents.  As with other EOs issued in the past week, this one could have benefited from more clarity, but I think the better reading of the EO is that it does cover guidance.

There are many reasons why this strategy in general is a bad one, but I’ll focus on just one: the need to develop policy as a result of particular statutes.  Take the 21st Century Cures Act.  Whatever your view of its merits, it passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the last weeks of President Obama’s administration.  It also imposes enormous new obligations on HHS and the FDA to make all kinds of policy judgments going forward.  It rarely requires the creation of a traditional notice-and-comment rulemaking (see sections 4002 and 4003 for examples), but often speaks in terms of “establish[ing] a program” or “establish[ing] a draft framework,” much of which could be done through guidance.

Read More

Housing Equity Week in Review

Last week, January 23-29, 2017, saw a mix of national and local-level housing news. Here’s our round-up for the past week:

  • Surprising some on the “Warren-wing” of the Democratic Party, Elizabeth Warren came out in support of Dr. Ben Carson as the 17th Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. In the confirmation hearing, Warren asked Carson if he can promise that no taxpayer dollar will go from HUD to developments’ of Donald Trump, then pointing out that it was a trick question since there was no financial disclosure,  no one knows exactly what how or what President Trump benefits from financially. However, due to promises to abate lead in housing and to protect from LGBTQ discrimination in housing markets, Warren decided not to stand in Carson’s way. Coverage via The Hill.
  • President Trump’s pick for Secretary Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, lied during his confirmation hearing about foreclosure practices of One West Bank while he was the chairmen and CEO, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
  • As the population ages, housing needs change. Are we keeping up with the new demand? New York Times opinion piece on the housing needs of the elderly.
  • Bay Area housing prices are going down due to building boom, via the Business Journal.
  • The National Low Income Housing Coalition released a statement in opposition of the Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017.

Did we miss anything? Let us know!

Erin Fuse Brown on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry and Frank Pasquale

Subscribe to TWIHL here!

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This week features Professor Erin C. Fuse Brown of Georgia State University’s College of Law. We discussed her fascinating work on the law & policy of consumer protection in health care, including the new article “Consumer Financial Protection in Health Care.”

Our discussion centered on surprise medical bills (including balance billing),“inscrutable price opacity,” and medical debt collection. This is a difficult area and one that implementers of the ACA have only begun to confront. Looking forward, our consensus was that this increasingly will become the province of “bifurcated” state laws passed under the specter of ERISA preemption–which could leave those in self-insured plans at the mercy of their employers.

For a thoughtful perspective on cutting edge efforts to protect patients from surprise bills and opaque billing, there is no better resource. And be sure to check out her SSRN Page for other important work on ongoing efforts to bend the cost curve in health care and assure more universal access to care.

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

Trap for the Unwary Works Again: Federal Healthcare and the Limitations Provision of the Federal Tort Claims Act

By Alex Stein

The same story involving a federally qualified health center (FQHC) repeats itself again, again, and now again: see Phillips v. Generations Family Health Center, — Fed.Appx. —- (2016), 2016 WL 5340278 (2d Cir. 2016).

A patient from Connecticut receives medical treatment from a physician who works at a Connecticut-based facility known as Generations Family Health Center. This center is an FQHC and the physician is consequently deemed a federal employee pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 233(g)-(n) (as explained, inter alia, in Phillips v. Generations Family Health Center, 723 F.3d 144, 145 (2d Cir. 2013)). The patient is unaware of this fact even though she could easily find it on the center’s website and in this database that belongs to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Subsequently, when the patient suspects that her physician committed malpractice, she and her attorney sue him in a Connecticut court because they believe him to be just a regular doctor from Connecticut. Alas, they could only sue the physician according to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) after going through a mandatory administrative claim process at DHHS. 28 U.S. Code §§ 1346 (b)(1), 2675. When they realize it, the suit becomes time-barred pursuant to the FTCA, 28 U.S. Code § 2401 (b) (“A tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred unless it is presented in writing to the appropriate Federal agency within two years after such claim accrues or unless action is begun within six months after the date of mailing, by certified or registered mail, of notice of final denial of the claim by the agency to which it was presented.”). Read More

REGISTER NOW (2/10)! Returning Results to Research Participants: A Health Policy and Bioethics Consortium

health-policy-and-bioethics-consortium-visixREGISTER NOW! Returning Results to Research Participants: A Health Policy and Bioethics Consortium

February 10, 2017 12:30 – 2:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East C (2036)
Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA

Register Now!

Clinical investigators, public health advocates, and IRBs have been struggling to develop appropriate policies on how to return results to patients involved in research studies. These results may come in a variety of forms, ranging from aggregated study results to individual results to incidental findings. Experts disagree over the optimal timing, how researchers should consider the burden that these results can place on patients, and whether there are circumstances in which certain findings should be withheld. Is clinical utility the appropriate standard, or does mere curiosity suffice to trigger disclosure obligations? How certain must the results be, and what if there is reason to believe that the results will be difficult for participants to understand – or cause them harm?  Two experts in the field of research law and ethics will join us to engage these and other questions, and help conceive a way to move forward in the best interests of patients and the medical research enterprise. Read More

Artificial Intelligence, Medical Malpractice, and the End of Defensive Medicine

By Shailin Thomas

Artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms are the centerpieces of many exciting technologies currently in development. From self-driving Teslas to in-home assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, AI is swiftly becoming the hot new focus of the tech industry. Even those outside Silicon Valley have taken notice — Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center and the MIT Media Lab are collaborating on a $27 million fund to ensure that AI develops in an ethical, socially responsible way. One area in which machine learning and artificial intelligence are poised to make a substantial impact is health care diagnosis and decision-making. As Nicholson Price notes in his piece Black Box Medicine, Medicine “already does and increasingly will use the combination of large-scale high-quality datasets with sophisticated predictive algorithms to identify and use implicit, complex connections between multiple patient characteristics.” These connections will allow doctors to increase the precision and accuracy of their diagnoses and decisions, identifying and treating illnesses better than ever before.

As it improves, the introduction of AI to medical diagnosis and decision-making has the potential to greatly reduce the number of medical errors and misdiagnoses — and allow diagnosis based on physiological relationships we don’t even know exist. As Price notes, “a large, rich dataset and machine learning techniques enable many predictions based on complex connections between patient characteristics and expected treatment results without explicitly identifying or understanding those connections.” However, by shifting pieces of the decision-making process to an algorithm, increased reliance on artificial intelligence and machine learning could complicate potential malpractice claims when doctors pursue improper treatment as the result of an algorithm error. In it’s simplest form, the medical malpractice regime in the United States is a professional tort system that holds physicians liable when the care they provide to patients deviates from accepted standards so much as to constitute negligence or recklessness. The system has evolved around the conception of the physician as the trusted expert, and presumes for the most part that the diagnosing or treating physician is entirely responsible for her decisions — and thus responsible if the care provided is negligent or reckless. Read More

CMS Publishes Final Rule Revising and Expanding Conditions for HHA Participation in Medicare and Medicaid

By Wendy S. Salkin

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized a rule concerning home health agencies on January 9th, “Medicare and Medicaid Program: Conditions of Participation for Home Health Agencies.” The rule has been a long time coming, since the proposed rules were set forth on October 9, 2014. This is the first time that CMS has successfully updated the home health agency (HHA) conditions of participation (CoPs) since 1989.

The aim of the final rule, according to CMS, is to “improve the quality of health care services for Medicare and Medicaid patients and strengthen patients’ rights.” The final rule

revises the conditions of participation (CoPs) that home health agencies (HHAs) must meet in order to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The requirements focus on the care delivered to patients by HHAs, reflect an interdisciplinary view of patient care, allow HHAs greater flexibility in meeting quality care standards, and eliminate unnecessary procedural requirements.

According to CMS,

[t]hese changes are an integral part of [the Agency’s] overall effort to achieve broad-based, measurable improvements in the quality of care furnished through the Medicare and Medicaid programs, while at the same time eliminating unnecessary procedural burdens on providers.

As is likely well known to readers, the use of home health services in the United States is widespread. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, as of 2014, there were 12,400 home health agencies in the United States and, during 2013, 4.9 million patients in the United States received and ended care from home healthcare workers. These numbers have since risen, and today in the United States there are nearly 12,600 Medicare and Medicaid-participating home health agencies and more than 5 million patients. Home health care serves a wide range of purposes. The Medicare website touts it as “usually less expensive, more convenient, and just as effective as care you get in a hospital or skilled nursing facility (SNF).” In addition to serving the aims of treating illness or injury, according to Medicare home health care “helps [patients] get better, regain [their] independence, and become as self-sufficient as possible.” Some examples of what home health care providers do with and for patients, upon doctor’s orders, include: wound care, patient and caregiver education, intravenous or nutrition therapy, injections, monitoring patient health condition, monitoring patient drug and treatment use, teaching patients how to care for themselves, and coordinating care between the patient, their doctor, and any other caregivers. Read More

National Survey Suggests that Off-Label Status is Material to Informed Consent

By Christopher Robertson

As many readers of this blog know, the FDA requires that, prior to entering the market, companies prove safety and efficacy for each intended use of their products, but physicians are then free to prescribe the products for any other uses.  (Companies are not allowed to promote off-label uses however.)

A recent national survey by Consumer Reports includes two interesting findings:

  1. About two-thirds (63%) of Americans “would not take a doctor prescribed medication that has been approved by the FDA, but not for their specific condition.”
  2. Almost all Americans (94%) “say they have never been told by a physician that a medication they were taking was not approved by the FDA for their condition.”

Patients are right to be skeptical of off-label uses, though they may not appreciate just how common they are.  In fact, most off-label use is unsupported by scientific evidence as to safety and efficacy.  A new report by the FDA illustrates several off-label uses that were subjected to rigorous clinical trials and turned out to be ineffective or dangerous.   For example, Aliskiren is approved for treatment of hypertension and was used off-label for prevention of congestive heart failure (CHF) complications.  A large trial showed that, although it did not significantly improve CHF mortality, it did significantly increase rates of kidney failure for CHF patients.  We do not know how many other off-label uses would fail if similarly tested.   Read More

An Alternative Point of View: The Societal Benefits of the Amgen v. Regeneron Injunction

Special Guest Post by Beau H. Miller, Jefferies

This article was originally published as part of research issued by the Jefferies Biotechnology Equity Research group.

Since the Amgen v. Regeneron ruling that resulted in Judge Robinson of the District Court of Delaware granting a permanent injunction removing Regeneron’s Praluent from the market (pending appeal), there have been a number of media and twitter commentaries providing their insights on the case.

These reactions have overall been of the opinion that it is a “shocking” precedent for a judge to remove an FDA-approved drug from the market for patent infringement – a remedy which patent owners, even pharmaceutical manufacturers, are justly able to obtain under the circumstances outlined in eBay v. MercExchange.

Given this, there are a few facts that have been overlooked in these reviews that lead us to disagree with some of the conclusions they reach, and also which led us to anticipate an injunction in this case. Read More