Oxygen mask as part of artificial lungs ventilation machine in surgery room, closeup.

Arizona’s Crisis Standards of Care and Fair Allocation of Resources During COVID-19

By Govind Persad

As COVID-19 cases spiked in Arizona, the state activated its crisis standards of care, which provide triage guidelines if absolute scarcity arises.

Arizona has done the right thing by adopting crisis standards of care instead of leaving these decisions about ventilators to be made ad hoc by medical staff, which presents the risk both of arbitrary and biased decisions and of greater distress for clinical staff who are forced to make decisions without a guidance framework.

Arizona’s activation of its crisis standards of care stands in contrast to most other states’ response to the pandemic, including New York, which ultimately did not activate its crisis standards of care. Even though Arizona and other states have not yet reached the stage of absolute scarcity where triage policies are invoked—and hopefully will take steps to avoid reaching it—the move has prompted discussions about fair triage policies and criticisms from some community organizations.

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Blister pack of pills, but instead of bills dollar bills are rolled up in the packaging

To Cut Prescription Drug Spending, Stop Delays for Generic Competition

By Beatrice Brown and Benjamin Rome

Prescription drug spending in the U.S. remains high and continues to rise, accounting for about 20% of national health expenditures. While generic competition is crucial for reducing drug prices, brand-name drug manufacturers can utilize several strategies to delay such competition by increasing the length of market exclusivity for their drugs.

Although brand-name drugs only account for 18% of all prescriptions filled, they comprise 78% of total drug spending. By contrast, equally-effective, interchangeable generic drugs can offer discounts of up to 80% off their brand-name drug counterparts.

Generic competitors can only be introduced after brand-name drugs have completed their period of market exclusivity, which typically lasts 12-16 years and is largely determined by the patents covering the drug. Brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturers have strong financial incentives to prolong this market exclusivity period and delay entry of generic products.

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hospital equipment

Taking Control During COVID-19 Through Advance Care Planning

By Stephanie Anderson and Carole Montgomery

A deep divide exists in the American health care system between patients’ values and the care they receive.

Let’s start with a story – Marcus was in his mid-40’s when he underwent high-risk heart surgery during which he suffered a brain injury. Afterward, the surgeons at first reassured his family that the surgery itself was successful (his heart was working fine) in spite of his brain injury.

Unfortunately, after many days in the ICU he remained unconscious and was not able to get off the ventilator. Specialists told the family that his brain injury was severe, and he would likely not be able to carry on a meaningful conversation or live independently ever again.

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Busy Nurse's Station In Modern Hospital

A Physician Reflects on COVID-19 and Advance Care Planning

By Shoshana Ungerleider

It was the end of a 24 hour shift in the ICU when the 85-year-old woman I had just admitted with end stage heart failure began having trouble breathing. While I knew she did not desire “aggressive measures” taken to prolong her life, I wondered what that meant in the context of this moment. Even though I was a young medical resident, I knew without swift intervention, she would not be able to survive the night. I ran into the waiting room to search for her son, her medical decision maker, but he had gone home for the night.

I returned to the bedside to see that my patient was tiring as her breathing was becoming shallow and fast. She was awake and I sat down to explain why she was feeling breathless. I explained that her condition had rapidly worsened and asked if she had ever considered a scenario where she may need a breathing tube. She had not. As her oxygen levels dropped, it quickly became clear that we had to act. What wasn’t clear to me was whether this frail woman would actually survive this hospital stay, and if she truly understood what intubation and mechanical ventilation were and whether this would cause her to suffer.

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empty hospital bed

The COVID-19 Pandemic Highlights the Necessity of Advance Care Planning

By Marian Grant

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the importance of clearly expressing personal wishes for medical care in emergency situations.

Health systems and providers across the country are seeing how important it is that all of us discuss our medical goals in advance. Not having one’s medical goals known in advance puts a burden on frontline clinicians and loved ones, because it leaves important medical decisions up to them.

You can and should speak up about the kind of medical care you would want, and tell doctors what matters to you. You also should tell those who matter most to you what you’d want if you couldn’t make decisions for yourself.

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an ambulance parked at the entrance of an emergency department

Racial Disparities Persist in Human Subjects Research

By Beatrice Brown

Human subjects research has long been plagued by racial inequality. While flagrant abuses have been curtailed, disparities have, unfortunately, persisted.

One area ripe for scrutiny is clinical trial enrollment. A 2018 study by William Feldman, Spencer Hey, and Aaron Kesselheim in Health Affairs documents racial disparities in trials that are exempt from typical requirements for informed consent from study participants.

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Madison, Wisconsin / USA - April 24th, 2020: Nurses at Reopen Wisconsin Protesting against the protesters protesting safer at home order rally holding signs telling people to go home.

Safer at Home? Yes, but Not According to the Wisconsin Supreme Court

By Beatrice Brown, Jane Cooper, and Danielle Pacia

Due to the Bill of Health production schedule, this piece is being published two weeks after it was written, on May 20th, 2020. The authors would like to affirm the importance of protests against anti-Black racism in America.

Stay-at-home orders—the primary means of managing the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.—face increasing opposition as protestors against these public health measures clamor for a “return to normal.” In Wisconsin, pushback against stay-at-home orders culminated in the state Supreme Court’s decision on May 13 to reverse the state’s “Safer at Home” policy.

Republican leaders of the state legislature filed suit against state Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm and other health officials, resulting in the case Wisconsin Legislature v. Palm. In a 4-3 ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the “Safer at Home” order was “unlawful” and “unenforceable.”  Read More

Madison, Wisconsin / USA - April 24, 2020: Demonstrators hold flags and signs at an anti lockdown rally on the steps of the Wisconsin State capitol. State Street is in the background.

COVID-19 Policies and Constitutional Violations

By Daniel Aaron

The past few weeks have seen protests against stay-at-home orders across the country. As protesters clamor for their freedom to leave home and conduct business, a constitutional battleground emerges over the novel coronavirus.

There is a strong argument that the Constitution has been infringed during the COVID-19 pandemic. But these infringements, I will argue, have more to do with the (lack of) federal response to the pandemic than curtailed rights to move, travel, and do business.

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WASHINGTON MAY 21: Pro-choice activists rally to stop states’ abortion bans in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on May 21, 2019.

The Harms of Abortion Restrictions During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Beatrice Brown

Several states, including Texas, Ohio, and Alabama, have dangerously and incorrectly deemed abortions a non-essential or elective procedure during the COVID-19 pandemic. The stated reason for these orders is to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE), a scarce, important resource for protecting health care workers treating COVID-19 patients.

However, these policies restricting abortion are unlikely to conserve PPE, and more importantly, they mischaracterize the nature and importance of abortions.

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Health care workers in personal protective equipment attend to a patient.

Preparing to Go Back to the Bedside During COVID-19: A Nurse-Turned-Bioethicist Reflects

By Emily Largent

Alarms are going off. They are loud and insistent, demanding the attention of doctors and nurses. I hear them, too.

Roughly a decade ago, I was a cardiothoracic ICU nurse in Los Angeles, California. Working with patients was deeply satisfying, but I regularly encountered ethical challenges that I wanted to address. Therefore, I stepped away from the bedside to go to law school and pursue my PhD in health policy. Now, I live in Philadelphia and work on ethical issues in medical policy and practice.

Recently, though, I renewed my California nursing license and began the process of pursuing a Temporary Practice Permit in Pennsylvania. The COVID-19 pandemic requires us all to sacrifice, to serve in ways that advance the greater good. So, I located the clogs I had pushed to the back of the closet and (literally) dusted them off. My parents sorted through the boxes I’d left in their garage when I moved east for grad school; they found my stethoscope and a few pairs of scrubs and shipped them to me. The box arrived this weekend.

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