Seeking out global patient safety research

By John Tingle

Unsafe health care is a problem of global proportions .The remedies and solutions to many patient safety problems are unlikely to be found in just one countries health care system. Health is one of the world’s great generics, it transcends countries borders, we are all dealing with the health of human beings which is the common denominator. Whilst country contexts may change the subject matter, the patient, remains constant. WHO state:

“Ensuring the safety of patients is a high visibility issue for those delivering health care – not just in any single country, but worldwide. The safety of health care is now a major global concern. Services that are unsafe and of low quality lead to diminished health outcomes and even to harm. The experience of countries that are heavily engaged in national efforts clearly demonstrates that, although health systems differ from country to country, many threats to patient safety have similar causes and often similar solutions (p.1).

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Massachusetts Wants To Drive Down Medicaid Drug Costs: Why Is The Administration So Nervous?

This new post by Nicholas Bagley and Rachel Sachs appears on the Health Affairs Blog. 

Although drug formularies are ubiquitous in Medicare and the private insurance market, they’re absent in Medicaid. By law, state Medicaid programs that offer prescription drug coverage (as they all do) must cover all drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however expensive they are and however slim their clinical benefits may be.

Massachusetts would like to change all that. In a recent waiver proposal, Massachusetts asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to allow it to adopt a closed formulary in Medicaid. That would allow Massachusetts to exclude certain brand-name drugs from Medicaid, increasing its leverage in price negotiations beyond what it can achieve through existing utilization management techniques like prior authorization.

Among Medicaid advocates, the proposal is controversial. Some fear that state budgets would be balanced on the backs of Medicaid beneficiaries, who could be denied access to expensive therapies. But Massachusetts thinks there’s room to drive down drug spending without threatening access to needed medications. In any event, the state has to do something. Drug spending in Massachusetts has increased, on average, 13 percent annually since 2010, threatening to “crowd out important spending on health care and other critical programs.”

By all rights, CMS should welcome Massachusetts’s proposal. Closed drug formularies are tried-and-true, market-based approaches to fostering competition over drug prices, and the Trump administration’s Council on Economic Advisers recently released a report saying that “government policy should induce price competition” in Medicaid. If Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar means it when he says that “drug prices are too high,” letting Massachusetts try out a formulary makes a ton of sense. […]

 Read the Full post here!

Systemic Oversight: a new approach for precision medicine and digital health

By Alessandro Blasimme and Effy Vayena

Imagine a clinical research protocol to test the efficacy of a nutritional regime on the aging trajectory of the participants. Such a study would need to be highly powered and include thousands of people in order to observe a credible effect size. Participants would remain enrolled in the study for many years, maybe decades. Endpoints would include novel measures of healthy aging such as functioning (the capacity to perform certain activities) and the quality of social life. Participants would thus be asked to provide enormous amounts of personal data covering at the same time their health state, their habits and their social activities – most likely with the help of smart appliances, sensor-equipped wearables, mobile phones and electronic records.

In a different scenario a research team aims to develop clinical protocols for cancer treatment according to the unique genomic signature of their tumor. They will need patients, willing to undergo whole genome germline and tumor sequencing right at the moment of diagnosis and be included in a basket trial. Therapy would then be targeted to the specific genetic alterations of each individual in the hope that a combination of targeted drugs would generate better medical outcomes than the current standard of care.

These two scenarios correspond to the prototypical form of, respectively, precision medicine and precision oncology studies. The first is likely to require large (very large) longitudinal cohorts of extensively characterized individuals – like the All of Us Research Program. The second will require sustained sharing of genomic data, information on patients’ clinical history and response to treatment, and possibly a unique repository in which such information would flow to – something akin the NCI’s Genomic Data Common.

This kind of data-intense research, in particular, introduces game changing features: increased uncertainty about foreseeable data uses, expanded temporal span of research activities due to virtually unlimited data lifecycles, and finally, the relational nature of data. This last feature refers both to the fact that, for instance, zip codes contain other types of sensitive information like information about ethnic background (redundant encoding); and to the fact that data about one person contain information about others– as is the case, for instance, with genetic data among family members. Read More

Taking action to prevent male suicide

By John Tingle

The issue of male suicide and prevention seems to have been an obscured or perhaps even a forgotten issue in reports discussing the care of vulnerable people. The UK media have recently focussed on this issue with the Project Eighty-Four campaign. This campaign  aims to raise awareness of male suicide with sculptures being placed on the top of a London tower block to mark this. The sculptures are on the top of ITV’s (Independent Television ) Buildings on London’s Southbank Promenade from 26th March 2018.The sculptures are designed to get people talking about the issue. Friends and families of the deceased men helped create them: “Each one, a poignant reminder of a real life lost and a call to society to come together and ultimately take a stand against male suicide.

BBC News has also covered the event. Project Eighty Four states that the statistics on male suicide are shocking. Every two hours a man in the UK takes his own life. Project Eighty Four is an initiative of the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).CALM is dedicated to preventing male suicide and they say that male suicide and mental health is a big issue that cannot be ignored for any longer.

Interestingly they report in latest annual report and accounts a modest but noticeable increase in the number of female callers for help and advice. CALM’s focus is on men because of the high rate of male suicides.Helpline workers helped to directly prevent 409 suicides in 2016-17, up 19% on the previous year. Read More

Learning the lessons from patient safety errors of the past

By John Tingle

A common theme found in patient safety reports in England going back as far as the year 2000 is that the NHS (National Health Service) is poor at learning lessons from previous adverse health incident reports and of changing practice. The seminal report on patient safety in England, Organisation with a memory in 2000  stated:

“There is no single focal point for NHS information on adverse events, and at present it is spread across nearly 1,000 different organisations. The NHS record in implementing the recommendations that emerge from these various systems is patchy. Too often lessons are identified but true ‘active’ learning does not take place because the necessary changes are not properly embedded in practice.” (x-xi).

In late 2003 our NRLS (National Reporting and Learning System) was established.This is our central database of patient safety incident reporting. Can we say today that the NHS is actively learning from the adverse patient safety incidents of the past and changing practice? That the NRLS has been a great success? Or is the jury still out on these questions? Unfortunately the jury is still out. Sadly, there is no shortage of contemporary reports saying that the NHS still needs to improve its lesson learning capacity from adverse events.

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The Problematic Patchwork of State Medical Marijuana Laws – New Research

By Abraham Gutman

The legal status of medical marijuana in the United States is unique. On one hand, the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no acceptable medical use and high potential for abuse. On the other hand, as of February 1, 2017, 27 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws authorizing the use of medical marijuana. This discrepancy between federal and state regulation has led to a wide variation in the ways that medical marijuana is regulated on the state level.

In a study published today in Addiction, our team of researchers from the Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research and the RAND Drug Policy Research Center finds that state laws mimic some aspects of federal prescription drug and controlled substances laws, and regulatory strategies used for alcohol, tobacco and traditional medicines.

In the past, studies on medical marijuana laws have focused on the spillover effect of medical marijuana to recreational use and not on whether the laws are regulating marijuana effectively as a medicine. Using policy surveillance methods to analyze the state of medical marijuana laws and their variations across states, this study lays the groundwork for future research evaluating the implementation, impacts, and efficacy of these laws.

The study focuses on three domains of medical marijuana regulation that were in effect as of February 1, 2017: patient protections and requirements, product safety, and dispensary regulation.

Here’s some of what we found:

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Factory farming, human health, and the new WHO Director General

By Nir Eyal

Last week, over 200 experts called on the next Director General of the World Health Organization to prioritize factory farming in an open letter. Announced in articles in the New York Times and The Lancet, the letter argues that factory farming is a major barrier to better global health. The letter does not make this argument on animal rights grounds – although this argument is certainly strong – but instead focuses on factory farming’s contribution to antibiotic resistance, climate change, and the rise of chronic diseases. These three issues formed the core of the last Director General’s agenda, although limited attention was paid to factory farming, which the authors argue, “connects the dots among them.”

One of the authors is Scott Weathers, a Global Health and Population MSc student at the Harvard T.H. Chan SPH. The other is Sophie Hermans, a doctoral student from Cambridge U. Their letter received overwhelming response. On twitter, their announcement of the letter was the #1 trending tweet on all relevant hashtags for the recent World Health Assembly.

Congratulations, Scott and Sophie!

(I am among the letter signatories.)

The Economics of Patient Safety: Adopting a Value-based Approach

By John Tingle

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) have recently published a report on the economics of patient safety.The report is in two main sections, section 1, the cost of failure and section 2, reducing harm effectively and efficiently.

Section 1 focuses on a review of the literature in the area. The reports begins by making the point that health care has always been and continues to be, a risk-laden activity:

“While modern medical sciences can certainly do more, the risks of complication, error and harm are commensurately greater.” (p.9)

The report states that adverse health care events can happen at any point of the patient’s journey and can vary between care settings. Similar causative factors can be attributed to most types of harm.On the world patient safety stage, the report states that despite global efforts to reduce the burden of patient harm in developing countries, the situation does not appear to have changed over the past 15 years. WHO data is cited from 2000 which indicates that two –thirds of all adverse events occurred in low-and middle income countries. The risk of patient death as a result of an adverse event appears to be much higher in developing countries with some estimates suggesting that as many as one in three adverse events result in the patient’s death. The report does suggest some ways forward in avoiding adverse health care events in developing countries. Read More

Loneliness as epidemic

By Wendy S. Salkin

Just a few weeks ago, The New York Times ran an article confirming that, indeed, we are facing an epidemic of loneliness. There is “mounting evidence” that links loneliness to illness, as well as “functional and cognitive decline.” What’s more, loneliness turns out to be a better predictor of early death than obesity.

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.

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The vexed problem of properly discharging elderly patients from hospital back into the community

By John Tingle

The National Health Service (NHS) just does not seem to be able to deal properly with discharging elderly patients from hospital back into the community. There have been major issues in this area going back decades. Stories in the media and official reports regularly appear about ‘bed blocking’ by elderly patients or hospitals discharging them back into the community without proper care arrangements being made.

There is a real fear that the NHS will never be able to turn things around here and that the lessons of the past are not being learnt .There are seemingly intractable problems being faced by trusts, social services and others in doing a proper job with elderly patient discharge.The high financial cost to the NHS of keeping well elderly patients in hospital has also been widely discussed.

Hospitals and social services have faced a barrage of criticism of failing to have coordinated care policies and arrangements leading in some cases to deaths of patients.
Two reports have been published recently which show that patient safety is being seriously compromised in this area. Read More