How should we label these “cognitive errors” that are particularly common among MDs?

Behavioral economists are really into giving the cognitive errors they study, and the corrective policy interventions they favor, labels. “Status quo bias,” “availability bias,” “recall bias,” etc., can all be fixed through “nudges” that involve “asymmetric paternalism” and the like.

Here’s an interesting “cognitive error” that I’m trying to crowd-source a label for: When America’s joint surgeons were challenged to come up with a list of unnecessary procedures in their field, their selections shared one thing: none significantly impacted their incomes.

And here’s another odd cognitive anomaly that seems to be especially limited to ophthalmologists: forgetting there’s a $50 dollar alternative that works just as well as the $2,000 injection they get 6% commission on. 

I’ve thought of my own labels (or rather, euphemisms) for the policy interventions I would suggest in response: “continuing medical education”  for the first of these neat little errors, and “resocialization” for the second.

Capsule Endoscopy Instead of Colonoscopy? The FDA Approves the PillCam COLON

By Jonathan J. Darrow

In January, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the PillCam COLON 2 as a minimally-invasive means of viewing the colon, a development that is sure to be welcomed by U.S. patients who currently undergo an estimated 14 million colonoscopies each year.  While the approval represents a major step forward, the PillCam is unlikely to supplant current procedures just yet.

The colon has traditionally been examined via optical colonoscopy, a procedure perceived by many to be uncomfortable and embarrassing that involves insertion through the rectum of a 5-6 foot long flexible tube as part of an examination that can take 30 to 60 minutes. Air must be pumped in through the rectum in a process called “insufflation.” Sedatives and pain medication are generally used to help relieve discomfort. In contrast, the PillCam COLON contains a power source, light source, and two tiny cameras encapsulated in an easy-to-swallow pill that produces no pain or even sensation as it moves through the colon. Reflecting the absence of discomfort, one report from a clinical researcher noted that a few patients have insisted on X-rays to confirm that the device had passed in their stool (FDA Consumer). The pill takes about 30,000 pictures before passing naturally from the body, which usually occurs before the end of its 10-hour battery life.

The safety record of capsule endoscopy, the category to which the PillCam COLON belongs, so far appears to compare favorably with the alternatives. Capsule endoscopy may be less likely to produce accidental colonic perforations or other serious complications, which occur in less than 1% of traditional colonoscopies despite the best efforts of the treating physician. Tears of the colon wall can in turn “rapidly progress to peritonitis and sepsis, carrying significant morbidity and mortality.” (Adam J. Hanson et al., Laparoscopic Repair of Colonoscopic Perforations: Indications and Guidelines, 11 J. Gastrointest. Surg. 655, 655 (2007)). Splenic injury or other serious complications also occur rarely with optical colonoscopies. Unlike “virtual colonoscopy,” which uses computed tomography (CT) to peer into the body, capsule endoscopy does not involve bombarding the body with radiation. A leading study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported no serious adverse events among 320 subjects given the PillCam COLON, and concluded that use of the device was “a safe method of visualizing the colonic mucosa through colon fluids without the need for sedation or insufflation.” Read More

Professional Licensing Boards and Antitrust Liability

[Blogger’s Note: I am very pleased to share this post by my colleague at Seton Hall Law, Tara Adams Ragone, in which she discusses North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC, drawing on both her scholarly work on the intersection of health care and antitrust law and on her deep experience prosecuting medical licensing actions for the state of New Jersey.]

By Tara Adams Ragone

Cross-Posted at Health Reform Watch

Should state professional boards, which regulate a growing and diverse array of professions and often are composed of professionals from the regulated community, be immune from federal antitrust liability if they engage in anticompetitive conduct?  The Federal Trade Commission thinks not in all cases, the Fourth Circuit agreed, and the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners has asked the United States Supreme Court to review this decision.

Sasha Volokh recently devoted a 5-part series of blog posts to the major legal issues in play in this case.  He provides an overview of the antitrust state action immunity doctrine here, summarizes the facts underlying the case, North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC, here, outlines the differing tests used in the circuits when applying the state action immunity doctrine to professional boards here, offers his opinion on how the Supreme Court ought to resolve these conflicts here (he leans towards the Fourth Circuit’s analysis), and suggests a possible way for the Board to work around the FTC’s injunction (by simply rephrasing its letters to threaten litigation) here.  Sasha’s posts provide an accessible and helpful primer on the case and relevant antitrust case law and are worth a read.

While we wait to learn if the Supreme Court will review this case, Professors Aaron Edlin and Rebecca Haw tackle the question of whether the actions of state professional licensing boards should be subject to antitrust scrutiny in their article, “Cartels by Another Name: Should Licensed Occupations Face Antitrust Scrutiny?” (available on SSRN and forthcoming in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review).  Although they use a question mark in their title, their characterization of licensing boards as cartels is a powerful tipoff to their ultimate conclusion – that licensing boards composed primarily of competitors regulating their own profession should not escape antitrust review: Read More

International Aid, Public Health, and Corruption

My wonderful HLS colleague Matthew Stephenson has just launched the Global Anticorruption Blog (GAB). As it happens, his first two posts may be of interest to BOH readers, especially those  may be of interest to readers interested in international aid for public health projects, of the sort supported by the Gates Foundation.  The first post argues that the extent of corruption in these projects is much larger than the Gates Foundation and others acknowledge.  The second post contends that one reason for lowballing of corruption estimates is political: these projects depend substantially on public funding, and political support for health aid may be undercut by candid assessments of the extent of the corruption and fraud problems. Both the posts and the blog are well worth a read.

DC Circuit Upholds FDA Authority Over Stem Cells

Earlier this week, the D.C. Circuit upheld the FDA’s authority to regulate stem cells (for a good news report see here). The company in question, Regenerative Sciences, had received a warning letter from FDA, which the company challenged claiming that its use of stem cells as therapy was not prohibited by existing federal law and that the FDA lacked authority to regulate it. They lost before the district court and appealed to the D.C. Circuit.

In a unanimous decision (by judge Griffith for himself, Judge Srinivasan and Edwards) the D.C. Circuit affirmed this decision. Here are some key passages: Read More

Encouraging Innovation in Chronic Care Management

By Michael Young

The growing burden of managing chronic illness has long been a critical issue for policy makers and clinicians seeking to improve the quality, cost and efficiency of healthcare systems in the United States. According to the Institute of Medicine, the costs of treating and managing the segment of the population living with chronic illnesses currently represents nearly $1.5 trillion of the over $2 trillion in annual healthcare spending in the U.S.  Over 90% of Medicare costs are allocated to beneficiaries living with two or more chronic conditions, with close to 50% of spending on individuals living with 6 or more chronic conditions (approximately 14% of beneficiaries).  The immense share of healthcare spending attributable to chronic illness is expected to climb as the population ages. 

Earlier this month, a bipartisan bill entitled the Better Care, Lower Cost Act was introduced in Congress which aims to address the complex issues involved in chronic care management.  The legislation outlines three key innovations toward this end.

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Capturing Value in Advanced Medical Imaging

On December 12, a bipartisan bill entitled the Excellence in Diagnostic Imaging Utilization Act of 2013 (HR 3705) was introduced in the House of Representatives which would require clinicians to use electronic clinical decision support tools (CDS) before ordering advanced diagnostic imaging tests for Medicare patients.  Structured around appropriate use criteria  developed by professional medical societies, the tools would aim to increase the value of advanced imaging studies by informing and guiding practitioners’ decisions across a variety of clinical settings.

Such tools would provide active feedback on the appropriateness and evidence base of various imaging modalities, and would require physicians to furnish rationales for ordering tests that are inconsistent with appropriate use criteria.  The bill also envisions the creation of registries that document how diagnostic tests are used in order to facilitate research and to enable feedback to clinicians on metrics related to appropriate use criteria.  In a press release, the American College of Radiology lauded the proposed legislation, stating that it would “revolutionize the specialty of radiology.”

Mandating the use of electronic clinical decision support tools portends at least three key improvements in clinical workflows and healthcare quality more broadly.

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Ethics and Oversight in Recombinant Genetic Research

By Michael Young

In 1972, biochemist Paul Berg and his student Janet Mertz published groundbreaking details of their first successful attempt at devising a procedure to cleave separate pieces of DNA and recombine them into a single novel molecule.  These innovations, dubbed recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology, spurred a flurry of concerns from members of the scientific community who worried about the safety, risks and potential drawbacks of creating recombinant DNA molecules.  Motivated by these concerns, the NIH established the Recombinant DNA Molecule Program Advisory Committee (RAC) in 1974.  The RAC was charged with the mission of overseeing research and implementation of rDNA technologies, with a particular focus on proposals involving the transfer of recombinant or synthetic DNA into humans (i.e., human gene transfer).

Last week, after nearly 40 years of providing an additional layer of oversight to this class of research, the RAC received recommendations from an independent Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee that was convened to assess “whether the current oversight of individual gene transfer protocols by the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) continues to be necessary.”

The committee’s report calls for significant changes to the prevailing structures of rDNA research regulation and oversight, and represents a victory for many gene transfer researchers who have challenged RAC regulations. Read More

Caplan on Organs and Inmates

By Art Caplan

Are we ever capable of laying a stupid idea to rest in America?  Apparently not.  The latest tempest in the ever-resurrecting world of solutions to the shortage of organs is donation by executed prisoners.  The Governor of Ohio held up a plan to execute a man on death row when he requested that his organs be donated to his mother and sister each of whom have serious health problems.

According to the AP,

“Ohio Governor John Kasich on Wednesday stayed the execution of convicted killer Ronald Phillips to assess whether Phillips’s non-vital organs or tissues can be donated to his mother or possibly others. Phillips, 40, was scheduled to be executed Thursday for the 1993 murder of 3-year-old Sheila Marie Evans.

“I realize this is a bit of uncharted territory for Ohio, but if another life can be saved by his willingness to donate his organs and tissues, then we should allow for that to happen,” Kasich said in a statement.”

The Governor need not have bothered.  What child rapist and murderer Ron Phillips had in mind was donating his heart and kidneys to his family.  He has shown no interest in helping anyone else nor did he ever mention tissue donation.

Moreover, getting organs from an executed prisoner is both impractical and immoral.

Read More